A Wishaw shopkeeper is worried that another Christmas trading period like the one just ended will sound the death knell for his struggling business.
Surinder Singh, who has been trading in the town for 25 years and owns the Homestyle store in Main Street, expressed his concerns following intense speculation among business owners that the streetscape regeneration project is behind schedule and may not be complete until December – rather than September - as originally predicted.
Phase three of the extensive programme – which includes a narrowing of the road and widening of the pavement, as well as cosmetic improvements such as new lighting, benches and paving – is underway, with work currently being conducted directly outside Surinder’s premises.
He explained: “Over the Christmas trading period we were 40 per cent down. Obviously that’s far from ideal but it’s not as bad as it could have been and I’m very grateful to all our customers who continue to give us their support.
“However, there’s a lot of talk in the town at the moment that the work is behind schedule and won’t be finished until December at the earliest. If that was to be the case then it would be a disaster. Not just for us but for the ever-dwindling number of businesses that remain in Wishaw town centre.
“They really need to get this thing completed on time and perhaps we will be able to return to some sort of normality before the run-up to next Christmas. But whenever I look outside to see how things are progressing, there’s only ever a handful of workmen on site. Surely they should be pulling out all the stops to get this job done.
He added: “Although even when work’s being done I get problems. Yesterday they were directly outside the shop and all our power went off momentarily. Some of our lights and the lift still aren’t working. They told me they are investigating and that it’s unlikely that they’ve caused it. But what else could have?”
With the first two phases of the project now complete, the Main Street is open to traffic as far as the junction with Belhaven Terrace. Several additional parking spaces have been installed on the road and new paving slabs have been laid.
But both Surinder and his son Shan are far from impressed with the results.
Shan said: “It’s pretty underwhelming, to be honest. After all the upheaval everyone’s been and continues to go through, I don’t think it looks that impressive and that’s the consensus of the majority of people I’ve spoken to about it. I think the slabs look as though they will be very slippy in bad weather and they’re also going to get grubby really quickly and will look a bit of a mess. Although all the empty premises in the town don’t do anything to enhance the look of the place either.”
Addressing Surinder’s concerns, Shirley Linton, head of planning and development, said: “Work is now well under way in the third work area, which runs up to Hill Street, and Scottish Gas are also carrying out some preparatory work at the junction of Hill Street and then diversionary work in between Hill Street and East Cross, ahead of Maclays starting on the fourth area.“Throughout the work, we have encountered a layer of soft clay below the existing road surface which is difficult to remove and has led to short delays. We are hoping to work more quickly over the next couple of months to make up the time taken to dealing with this issue.
“In partnership with the contractor, Maclays Civil Engineering, we have reprogrammed the order of work areas to carry out all the works to the Main Street to ensure that it is open well in advance of the Christmas period with Main Street being intended to be complete early September. Physical works will take place in the last work area of phase one in Kenilworth Avenue from September to early December. This work will be contained in Kenilworth Avenue and not have any disruption to Main Street.”
She added: “The Main Street between Dryburgh Road and Belhaven Terrace re-opened to traffic well before Christmas and we are pleased with the results of the streetscape project to date.
“By taking away the high step between the pavements and the road, we have significantly improved access for people crossing the roads, especially those with wheelchairs or prams. In addition, the sandstone and granite pavements and the resurfaced road have significantly improved the appearance of the area. We are now waiting on the new lighting columns and decorative planters to be delivered to complete this whole area.”