Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Local business owners shocked and angry at Silverbridge road closure

Local business owners are deeply concerned that the closure of the B30 Newry Road, Silverbridge has gone ahead today despite the fact that the ensuing traffic diversions will result in the significant loss of passing trade which the rural businesses say they are heavily dependent on.

Josephine Murphy, whose Vivo shop has traded in Silverbridge for the last fifteen years, believes the seven week closure to facilitate resurfacing of the carriageway and associated works, could effectively “wipe out” her business.  Such are the extent of her fears – the business owner has reluctantly placed her 10-strong team of staff on protective redundancy.

Speaking to The Examiner ahead of today’s closure, Mrs Murphy stressed that, as a collective, the businesses in Silverbridge, which also include Finnegan’s Nursery and the local Takeaway, only discovered the road was closing via local media advertisements last week.  She said that the business proprietors are furious that no consultation or approach was made for them to express their concerns or to ascertain if any compromise or accommodation could be reached to avoid the serious threat the protracted closure will have on their livelihoods.  Mrs Murphy also revealed that, upon voicing her frustration at the lack of consultation to the Department of Infrastructure last week, a roads official subsequently hand delivered notification of the works to her store on Friday last – just two days before the scheme was set to begin.

In her email sent to the Department of Infrastructure on behalf of the Silverbridge business owners, Mrs Murphy outlined their concerns and reiterated the loss of trade suffered during a previous set of road works in the area in 2014.

“Just over two years ago the main road between Newry and Crossmaglen was closed, both ways, for a number of weeks and the effect was devastating both on local Businesses and the Community,” she said, adding that it took “over a year” for her business to recover and that she had considered closing down altogether.  She stated that other local businesses had suffered heavily and that no one from any department or agency had contacted them in 2014 to discuss the impact of the works.

“The first we knew of it was when the signs went up informing motorists of intended closure,” claimed Mrs Murphy, who said their objections back then had “fallen on deaf ears” as they advised it was too late to engage in consultation.

“My business, the Garden Centre and the Takeaway rely heavily on passing trade and I do not believe my business can sustain this lengthy interruption again,” she stated.

Appealing for the department to assert its influence on the situation, the local business woman said whilst she and other business proprietors understood, and indeed welcomed, the necessary repair of roads in the area, “we also need to keep our businesses running to keep local people employed and to provide local services.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Kathleen Finnegan from Finnegan’s Nursery in Silverbridge, who told The Examiner the Garden Centre trade will severely decline over the coming weeks of the road closure, with customers outside of the local area deterred from travelling to Silverbridge due to the lengthy diversions in place.   Kathleen agrees that all of the local business owners understand the need to maintain the roads, especially in rural areas, but questioned the logic of carrying out two major roadwork schemes together which will essentially “cut off” the businesses for a longer period of time, affecting the busy run up to Christmas trade.

According to the hand-delivered letter received last Friday from Transport NI, the combined scheme will carry out resurfacing works over two sections of the Newry/Silverbridge Road, the first being the junction of the Mill Road to Old Road and the second from Ummeracam Road to close to Drumalt Road.  In their response to The Examiner’s queries about the closure, a Department of Infrastructure spokesperson insisted both sections were being worked on together in order to “stop the need of having to close the road again after Christmas.”

The spokesperson also maintained that it was not possible to complete the proposed works and keep one lane open, as suggested by local businesses, because “there is limited available carriageway width which does not provide the permitted lane widths for safely operating under traffic control.”

“A road closure is the only viable option to complete the works in accordance with the safety at Street works and Road works Code of Practice,” concluded the Department of infrastructure response.

In the meantime angry business owners feel their concerns have once again been ignored and that the closures are set to continue unabated despite overwhelming opposition from the local traders.  They have appealed for the community and their loyal customers to support them in the midst of such upheaval and help them continue to serve the needs of the local area.