Belfast Telegraph

Belfast trader closing shop after highway repairs put him on road to ruin

By Adrian Rutherford

A shop owner claims he has been forced out of business because of constant roadworks outside his store.

John Lemon, who owns Harry's Newsagents in east Belfast, will shut up shop in March.

He said workmen have been digging up the road in front of his store since September - driving customers away.

His business is located on the Upper Newtownards Road, which has the unenviable record of being Northern Ireland's most dug-up road.

"I just don't see the point any more," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"If they can just come here and dig up the road whenever they like then it's just going to drive everyone away."

Last Monday this newspaper reported how the Upper Newtownards Road had been dug up 495 times in five years.

Workmen carry out repairs on the 3.6-mile carriageway between Dundonald and central Belfast every three days on average. Just 27 of the 495 incidents were described as emergency repairs.

Mr Lemon's problems started on September 25 when workmen began digging holes in front of his shop.

It is part of the Belfast Rapid Transit project, which is introducing bus lanes along the Upper Newtownards Road.

However, Mr Lemon said actual repair work didn't take place for more than eight weeks.

They finally finished up just before Christmas - but Mr Lemon said he was then told it wasn't done properly, and will have to be redone.

He said: "They dug it up and then left it for over eight weeks.

"On some occasions I looked out and you had 12 men just standing there looking into the hole.

"They finished it all before Christmas, but then I saw them all out again looking at the road again.

"They told me they weren't happy with the job and would be coming back in January."

Mr Lemon, who has been in business for four-and-a-half years, said he had seen a drastic fall in custom since September.

"I've lost lots of customers because they couldn't get stopped," he said.

"They just drove on and got their newspapers somewhere else.

"A few of them have come back, but they've left again because the roadworks are back, so I'm right back to square one."

Mr Lemon has now decided that enough is enough - and is shutting down.

"The roadworks have directly led to me closing," he added. "I left a job to set the shop up and, for the first year, it was brilliant.

"The recession hit a bit in the second year, but we were getting over it.

"I thought I would be in this shop until I stopped working, but now that's not going to happen and I'm going to have to find a new job.

"I'm very sad but also very angry about the whole thing."

The Department for Regional Development said that a hole in the road was opened in the vicinity of Mr Lemon's shop as part of service alterations linked to the Belfast Rapid Transit project.

A second hole was created in the vicinity of the shop by NIE as part of its upgrade works, a matter that was outside the department's control.

A spokesman explained that these were "joint holes" which had to remain open until NIE's cable-laying and jointing process was completed in line with the instructions received from NIE.

The spokesman said: "Access to Mr Lemon's shop has been maintained at all times during the works and additional signage provided to demonstrate that the business continued to operate as usual.

"The department's site supervision team have been, and continue to be, in contact with Mr Lemon in relation to the works, which are due to be completed outside his shop this week."

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