ROADWORKS and gridlock are adding up to a very unmerry Christmas for some resort traders.
As Blackpool Council celebrated winning plaudits for its massive road rebuilding programme, there was a distinct lack of festive cheer coming from many shop’s tills.
Store owners have told The Gazette a combination of roadworks, closed car parks and a switch to Internet shopping had seen trade hit hard.
A number of factors have been cited for people being put off making their way into Blackpool’s shopping district – including regeneration work near the new Central Business District, the replacement of lights on Church Street causing delays and the closure of the Talbot Road and Seed Street car parks in town.
The news came as the council was highlighted as having the most improved roads in the country thanks to Project 30 – a four-year £30m scheme to improve highways across the resort after many were left pot-holed by harsh winter weather in 2009 and 2010.
One trader described shopping conditions as “a nightmare”, while taxi drivers said the roadworks surrounding the town centre were “a major concern” and putting off people coming into the resort.
Work is currently underway on the Central Business District – formerly the Talbot Gateway project, a £200m scheme to build new offices and a large Sainsbury’s store.
Another ongoing scheme is seeing all of Blackpool’s street lighting replaced under a private finance initiative (PFI), which is causing delays at the junction of Church Street and Grosvenor Street.
Seed Street car park has been shut off, Talbot Road has been narrowed while the former Larkhill Street was closed off and New Larkhill Street created where The Tache nightclub once stood.
Talbot Road car park has also been shut down as part of the massive regeneration project.
Taxi drivers said they were having to use rat runs to get around the roadworks which were taking to long and tended to all be carried out consecutively making it a nightmare for motorists.
Chris Dyson, director at Radio J Cabs, told The Gazette: “They tend to start too many (roadworks) at the same time and they each take five or six weeks which causes chaos for all the traffic.
“They’ve done a lot of resurfacing work but it’s not up to the top standard, although on some roads it’s 100 per cent better but takes far too long.”
Town centre manager Eileen Ormond, who has set up a winter fairground in St John’s Square to entice shoppers, admitted the ongoing work was an issue for traders. She added: “In any town where you’re looking at regeneration roadworks are a necessary part of building, but there’s no doubt it has a knock-on effect on businesses.”
Blackpool Council has defended the decision to continue roadworks over the festive period, saying to postpone them would risk losing the private funding for them.
Coun Fred Jackson, cabinet member for roads and transport, added: “It’s the PFI funding for the work.
“If we don’t keep to the milestones, in the street lighting project, which covers the traffic signals, the bank can withdraw funding and the whole scheme could be in jeopardy.
“That work needs to be done, that’s the reason it has gone ahead.
“If there are disruptions we apologise for that but in the long term roads will be much better.”