Traders protest as Northern Ireland town centre works drag on for a fifth month
Angry Co Down traders have hit out over the chaos caused by long-running public works, claiming that some businesses could go to the wall if the disruption continues.
The stark warning comes after a Public Realm Scheme in Downpatrick, which started five months ago on January 7 and was supposedly due for completion on March 31, was recently delayed for a fourth time.
Shop owners have complained of "raw sewage running down the street" as pavements have been "dug up", while store deliveries and bin collections have proved "impossible" as the scheme progresses.
The desperate retailers have said they are now being forced to hold a public meeting in Irish Street tomorrow to vent their fury and to protest at how the ongoing works are "crippling" both the street and the town by driving away shoppers.
Alan Oakes, owner of commercial printer Plus 2 Print in Downpatrick, who will be celebrating 30 years in business this September, said the problem was "getting more serious by the day".
"Traders in the area welcome the fact that the work is being done but the town has been sliced in two by the roadworks," he said. "It's the fourth time there has been a delay since work began in January and there are concerns that it's just going to drag on endlessly, to the detriment of a lot of local traders."
Mr Oakes said traders have organised a public meeting on the street itself "to try and draw councillors out" because "nobody seems to be listening to us or understanding what we're saying".
He added: "Our footfall is down dramatically; there is no-one coming to my shop."
Brian Mooney, who owns Mooney's Chemist in the town and has traded there for 18 years, said his takings in February and March were down 10%, which he described as "significant for us".
He added: "I want to know how long this work is going to take and whether anything can be done to speed things up - before it's too late for everybody."
A council spokesman said they were aware of the issues, and added: "Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is convening a meeting with the Irish Street Steering Committee this week, at which the traders' concerns will be discussed."