Larne trader fears being forced to close over public realm works

Aroma Coffee House on Larne's Main Street. INLT-06-705-con
Aroma Coffee House on Larne's Main Street. INLT-06-705-con

A Larne trader says he fears he may have to close his cafe during public realm work on Main Street after turnover dropped dramatically.

Co-owner of Aroma Coffee House Karl Wilson, whose business is located in the section of Main Street which is closed to traffic until the beginning of March, described the situation as a “disaster” for his recently-opened cafe.

“Things are going from bad to worse now that our section of the street is closed to traffic,” he told the Times.

“Our takings were down 60 per cent last Thursday and I know another shop which only lifted £6 all day.

“It is like a war zone with roadworks and no one is doing anything about it. We have never had any contact from the council, we only know what we have heard from other shop keepers.”

In addition to the decreased footfall caused by roadworks and the restriction of vehicular traffic, Karl has suffered electricity power cuts, which have left him unable to cater for customers in busy periods.

“I am seriously considering closing and paying only my rent and rates until the work is finished,” Karl stated.

“How do they expect traders to keep paying staff when turnover has decreased so much?

“If the council thinks new footpaths will bring people into the town, they are wrong; it’s shops that attract people and at this rate there will be no shops left.

Despite a meeting between traders and contractors on Monday February 1, Karl says the situation remains unresolved.

“All the businesses along here have suffered, some traders at the meeting said takings were down 50 per cent,” Karl continued.

“Our customers have been loyal and try to support us, but there is no compensation.

“They have told us they are going to try and open the affected part of the road at weekends and I am hoping it will help a bit.”

Assistant manager of Superdrug Larne, Louise Hughes, said that sales at her store had “dropped dramatically” since the diversion was implemented.

“A lot of people are saying they can’t be bothered coming into Larne due to the roadworks,” she claimed.

“Even when we are at the till you can’t hear the customers because of the noise from the work.”

The Sweet Life owner Deborah Gardiner said that were it not for her external delivery business, her turnover would also have been badly affected due to the decrease in footfall in store.

“The traders should have been consulted more before work started to try and make it less disruptive,” she commented.

“I have worked on Main Street for 20 years and can see the difference since the public realm work started.”

Owner of Apsley’s and Crafty Copy Bobby Little said that while the work had been “very disruptive” it would be over in three weeks’ time.

When asked if the council would open the section of Main Street which is currently closed to traffic at weekends, a spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council stated: “While a number of alternative working arrangements are being considered, currently there is no change to the advertised road closure (seven days a week) which is in place for a maximum period until March 4.”

DUP councillor Paul Reid said he could “understand the frustration” which traders feel and that the contractors had been asked if they could reopen the road to traffic quicker.

When asked if traders who could produce evidence of the detrimental effect of the public realm scheme on their businesses would receive a rates rebate, a council spokesperson stated: “Neither Mid and East Antrim Borough Council nor the DSD (who are part funding the public realm improvement scheme) pay compensation for alleged decreases in trade while such works are taking place. However, any ratepayer who considers that their business has been adversely affected by such works can seek a reduction in the Net Annual Value of their premises through Land and Property Services, which could reduce their rates.”