A suburban Manchester business owner has spoken of his frustration at an over-hyped active travel project which will see a new £13.4m cycle lane laid, claiming ‘Christmas is ruined’.
The Chorlton to Manchester cycle route will be part of the city’s Bee Network of active travel routes and has been under construction since February, Manchester City Council approved the multi-million pound project after the proposals were overwhelmingly popular at the consultation stage, 73 per cent of respondents expressing their support for the scheme.
However, the original September completion date came and went, with the owner of one business along the route, Frankie Dyer of Barbakan Delicatessen, saying the new December 22 deadline threatened to ruin Christmas trade.
Ms Dyer told the Manchester Evening News there was a “lack of communication” from the council and attendances had dropped by 20 per cent due to the works, which had a “massive negative impact on our business”.
“There were weeks of road closures with no workers anywhere,” she said.
“All of this has a huge negative impact on our business. We are bored. People come from all over Manchester to shop here – people don’t cycle here from Bolton. We tell people “good luck” when they ask where to park. I had to reduce staff hours, some people left because we can’t give them enough hours.
“This is supposed to be our busiest time of the year, but it had just died down. If you are going to dig a road, you must have the manpower to do it in the time frame you said. They have taken away dozens of car parking spaces and given us no alternative when there are the same amount if not more drivers on the road. There have been times when we have not been able to get deliveries because our wagons cannot get off the road or to park here. Our bins have not been collected on many occasions.
“There was hardly any communication until last week when I again asked for support and updates. Even then, I just apologize. I can’t pay wages for excuses while looking at an empty construction site. We deserve much better than this.
“It’s just a kick in the teeth after everything we’ve had to go through over the last few years as a business. It’s just something we shouldn’t have put up with. And to say it’s going to last until December 22 is just a devastating blow. Christmas practically is ruined for us.”
The council urged local residents to consider the benefits the completed scheme would bring, saying it would be a “hugely transformative project” for the area. He also said he was “engaging with residents and businesses to explain the timetable for the works as well as address any concerns or questions”.
A council spokesman said that while they appreciate how stressful major infrastructure works can be, there has been regular communication through the Chorlton Traders Group and during the consultation.
A spokesman said: “Before this project starts, the council is publishing a consultation aimed at residents and businesses that have been proposed, as well as giving them the opportunity to comment on any potential issues. It has become clear that a number of parking spaces will need to be removed or relocated to ensure that cycle lanes can be properly installed.
“This is directly linked to a new policy set out by the council at the start of the year, which sets out bold strategies for how we can accelerate the city’s transition to greener modes of transport. Of course, we sympathize with anyone experiencing disruption due to this work, but as with any major infrastructure project, there may be delays or issues that arise along the way.
“The works are on track to be completed by the end of the year, just short of the original September completion date, supported by additional work teams that the council has commissioned specifically to ensure it is completed on schedule.”
And while Ms Dyer, of Barbakan Deli, had many complaints about the delay, other business owners said they were thinking longer term, Unicorn grocery co-op director Kelly Buble said although it “felt like forever”, ” the end of the game is going to be a good thing for Chorlton’s future.”
“If it can enable people to use their bikes more than that, that can be great for everyone,” she said. “I can totally relate to the pain I’m feeling at the moment, it’s taken a lot longer than we all expected, but that doesn’t take away from the gain the whole community can have from this scheme.
“But times are certainly tough and I sympathize with all the traders who are seeing the steps change significantly when they are already struggling. It is hard.”
Similarly, Chorlton Traders Association looked to the future, admitting that the area was “absolutely inundated with cars” even “before the work” and that it was “simply not working”.
“It was recognized that something had to change in this regard. Traders will be concerned, but at the same time the presence of a cycle lane should be seen as a bonus for the area. It’s all pain for no gain right now, but we’re hoping the benefits will be seen soon enough,” the association said.
The group acknowledged there would be a loss of parking spaces, which is a concern for some business owners, but said the long-term goal should be to encourage people to visit the area on foot or by bike, reducing the use of cars. The council says it has become clear at the consultation stage that these spaces will be lost or relocated.