Takings for businesses in Northfield high street have been adversely affected by prolonged works to repair water mains in the town centre – and it’s not over yet.
Severn Trent Water opened up a hole at the junction of Bell Lane and Bristol Road South on Saturday 14th June after it was discovered that four leaks in the trunk main supplying water to Birmingham had been eroding the ground underneath the town centre for several years.
Liz Newton, Northfield BID manager said: “Severn Trent Water returned to repair sunken ground at the Bristol Road South and Bell Lane on Northfield high street, and found the ground underneath was being washed away by flowing water, resulting in caverns.”
However, despite opening up the hole, little work was carried out for most of the following week. Severn Trent were put under pressure from business owners, Northfield BID, local councillors and MP to get the work finished.
Three of the leaks have now been repaired but the fourth has yet to be repaired. The hole has been closed up for now to minimise disruption, while the Severn Trent work with council highways officers to decide how and when to proceed.
High street businesses suffering
Many local business owners are angry about the lack of urgency and lack of information from the company.
Andy Clarke, owner of Phase 2 hair salon and Chairman of Northfield BID said: “On Saturday 14th June Northfield Town centre was subjected to major chaos due to the hole and road closure at Bell lane junction. The day was extremely busy – with traders hoping for a profitable day! Yet we experienced a day of choas!! Closed roads, Traffic jams, tail back of cars to the Black Horse, incidents of road rage, furious business owners, trade (including my own ) totally disrupted.”
Mr Clarke added: “Severn Trent water failed to inform or update any of the traders in Northfield of the works being carried out, and dug a huge hole in the middle of the A38 then left it redundant and unattended for well over a week with not a contractor in sight for days. Despite numerous telephone calls and emails, nobody from Severn Trent could give an accurate or truthful response as to why this hole was still open.”
“On Friday 20th June I finally managed to speak to a guy called Paul Rothera (Severn Trent Central Area Delivery Manager) strongly expressing my concerns on behalf of the businesses in Northfield and pointing out how this unacceptable situation was having a detrimental impact on our trade!! and on Saturday 21st the hole was reinstated to ease the burden” Mr Clarke said.
Joy Gill, owner of The Flower Centre, said the disruption had affected them, despite a lot of their business being done online, and sympathised with other business owners who rely completely on footfall. She described how getting in and out of the shop to make deliveries had been difficult due to traffic queues.
Joy said: “Constant queues around the hole as road closed, has meant us queuing just to get back into our yard. Customers have been put off collecting flowers for same reason. Northfield has suffered lots of road closures due to road works and utilities, over the past few years. The resulting diversions cause many traffic queues and put potential customers off, they avoid coming anywhere near Northfield.”
More to come
A spokeswoman for Severn Trent Water said: “The last leak is having an impact on the repair at Bells Lane and this will need to be opened up and refilled to make it safe. Again we are working with the Highways Agency to find a suitable time to do this work.
“We fully appreciate that this is a huge inconvenience for people and businesses in the area and we’d like to reassure you that we are doing everything we can to get the work done and everything back to normal as quickly as possible.”
In response to the need for further works, Andy Clarke said: “If they are to return, let’s hope we are kept fully updated and informed with Severn Trent contractors working day, night and weekends to get the job completed … minimising the disruption to our businesses to as little as possible!”
And traders feel that Northfield being a BID (Business Improvement District) has really helped them get action. Northfield BID manager, Liz Newton said: “Northfield BID’s been working MP Richard Burden and Councillor Randal Brew to put pressure on Severn Trent, Amey and Birmingham City Council to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
And the Flower Centre’s Joy Gill said “It is great having our BID in place, we speak as one group … we have got things moving.”
Improving future practice
MP for Northfield and Shadow Roads Minister, Richard Burden MP said: “Along with Liz Newton and all at Northfield BID, I was pushing since the weekend before last to get this sorted. Local businesses should not have had to put up with all this disruption for so long.
“I’ll be asking the City Council/Amey and Severn Trent to let me have a report on what lessons have been learned from the last two weeks to make sure that any future disruption is minimised and that we don’t end up in the same situation again. I know how disruptive road works by utility companies can be, particularly when you see a road being dug up by one company only to see the same piece of road dug up by a different company three months later.
And Mr Burden vowed to work on improving how works are carried out: “I want to get the different authorities and companies coordinating their activities much better. I know there is best practice from elsewhere which we can learn from.”