As the eight-month scheme to improve Uckfield High Street begins, many traders fear they will not be able to survive until the works are finished but are reiterating it’s business as usual.
This is because northbound traffic is diverted by four miles along Bell Lane and the A22 by-pass as part of a one-way route around roadworks.
The works are causing fury in the High Street.
At the same time 30 of 112 shoppers’ spaces Luxford car park have been fenced off for use by contractors.
Noble Wines boss Charles Mears-Lamb said: “I know of three shops that will close because of the downturn in business caused by the works and one which is moving to another site. Looking out of the door today the High Street looks like it does on a Sunday. I urge people to come and shop as there is no-one else about.” One resident said: “It’s a ludicrous scheme. I couldn’t think of a better way to kill off trade.”
Express photographer Ron Hill added: “For once the town is easy to get around” - a view endorsed by subscribers to social media who commented on the lack of traffic and sparse footfall. Resident Barrie Green asked: “Do councillors have a death wish for Uckfield High Street? Our postman said he delivered a letter to a High Street shop at 1pm yesterday and he was the first person in the shop.”
Meanwhile, councillors urge patience. They say disruption will be worthwhile in the end and the town will look and work better.
Cllr Claire Dowling, chair of the highway project board, said: “Uckfield is a great town and is open for business. We should all be positive as the town has a wonderful future. People may have pre-conceived ideas whilst the roadworks are going on, but getting into the town is easy. People can come in as usual from the north and from the south, park in the car parks as usual, whether it’s Luxford, Tesco or Waitrose, and shop in the town. There is also the fantastic bonus of free car parking every weekend at the station car park which makes parking even easier.
“The only difference during the work is that there is a one-way system southbound down the High Street. We are working with the Chamber of Commerce and the Uckfield Future Group to ensure that people come to the town, support the businesses, do their shopping and have a great time. So, let’s all get behind Uckfield and encourage visitors.”
A replacement shuttle bus, free weekend parking and special offers for bus passengers have been introduced to reduce the impact. Business rates have been reduced by 15 per cent for firms in the line of the works and half that for those not directly affected. Charles Mears-Lamb added : “That just doesn’t cut it. Most of us have to take a set amount simply to cover our costs. I have spoken to local traders and we are all 50 per cent down. Since Sunday I am 70 per cent down on last year. It cannot continue.
“When works were done a few years ago we had two-way traffic and there were no accidents.”
The £3-million improvements include wider York stone pavements; sensitive phasing for traffic lights; ugly street furniture removed; bus shelters with seats and time indicators; 20mph speed limit on the High Street and Church Street; improved pedestrian crossings; more efficient street lighting; new street furniture and trees planted to minimise flood risk. It’s hoped the scheme will reduce congestion and ensure Uckfield can cope with traffic generated by new housing development at Ridgewood Farm and make the High Street a more pleasant shopping destination.
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