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Road closures hurting local business

By David Whelan

BUSINESSES on the New Lodge road are being left high and dry due to a severe drop in footfall caused by ongoing road works, shop owners have claimed.

Michael O’Kane of O’Kane’s butchers and Barry Saunders of Saunder’s Vivo said that their businesses have been brought to their knees since work by Northern Ireland Water began at the end of July.

With the road between Hartwell Place and Lepper Street expected to be closed to traffic for up to eight weeks, the business owners claim that they have been boxed in and received no help in keeping their shops accessible.

Michael O’Kane said that they have been forced to just “grin and bear it” as sales have slumped.

“They have been here for just over four weeks and I would say my business has dropped easily 50 per cent,” he said.

“It’s bad enough that delivery drivers are being forced to haul slabs of beef on foot down a long road but when you start to see the reduction in customers and sales you realise how bad it is.

“Once you lose customers to another business it’s difficult to get them back again and I’m at the stage where I’m having to dump tonnes of perishable meat.”

Michael also said that a lot of his regular costumers had expressed safety concerns about coming to the shop.

“There is no one coming on to the road, even old people won’t come on to the road,” he said.

“The workmen have the pavements all dug up and they cover they holes with plastic covers but people just don’t feel safe walking through a building site.”

Barry Saunders claims that his business had suffered heavily since work began.

“It’s difficult to run a convenience store that isn’t convenient,” he said.

“People aren’t going to go out of their way to come to a shop, they’ll just go to one a little further where they can park their car or not have to tackle an obstacle course.

“The Antrim Road work was done in two weeks, this is taking two months and it just seems that we have been forgotten about and are expected to just stay quiet and get on with it.”

A spokesperson for NI Water said that they were working as quickly as possible to complete the works.

“The nature of the work requires road-openings, so a road closure is essential. If the scheme should complete ahead of schedule, the road closure will be lifted earlier.

“This project will be beneficial to all our customers in the area, as it will improve the quality, reliability and security of the local water supply. We are grateful for the patience and understanding of our customers in the area while this essential work is carried out.”

The spokesperson denied that work on the New Lodge Road had fallen behind schedule by three weeks.

“NI Water is aware of allegations that essential water mains rehabilitation work in the New Lodge Road area is currently running approximately three weeks behind schedule”, he said.

“We would like to confirm that these are without foundation, and that the scheme, part of a wider water mains project worth some £2.2 million, is running to schedule.”

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