Angry shop owners hit out at lack of consultation over bullring disruption
Wexford County Council was accused of 'blatant disregard' for small businesses in the town over its handling of a major renovation contract on the former Permanent TSB building in the Bullring which is being converted to the new public offices of Wexford District Council.
Traders are angry over not being consulted in advance about the decision to completely close the crucial Cornmarket/Bullring artery to traffic until October 7 and to make it one-way from the quays for over four months while an extended hoarding blocks the view of businesses from the Main Street.
Shop owners who are facing massive disruption at one of the busiest times of the year leading into Wexford Festival Opera, Christmas and the January sales, contacted the Council and asked for the work to be halted until the end of January next but were told by officials that this wasn't possible.
Jenna Doyle Berry who runs Shades hair salon in Cornmarket said she only found out about the building work from a neighbouring business three days before the work started.
She arrived into her salon on Monday morning of last week to discover that scaffolding had been erected on the adjoining TSB and a section of it extended onto the outside her building.
'A man living in an apartment couldn't even get out of his door because a post from the scaffolding was in front of it. They moved the scaffolding slightly because of that but it's still blocking the phone number on our sign'.
'I could hardly believe it when I saw the scaffolding. No-one from the Council came to us before the work started. No-one asked permission. I was told by the builders that a notice had appeared in the paper. If I was to put scaffolding on my house and it went across a neighbour's home I wouldn't get away with it,' she said.
'I've tried to talk to the Council. I rang them on five separate occasions and was told someone would get back to me but nobody has. Nobody came to talk to me, to ask for permission to put scaffolding on my business.'
Some of the customers of Shades are elderly people who are dropped by car at the door of the premises and collected after their appointments but they are now unable to access the business, she said.
'It's the same for young mothers with buggies. They have to try and manoeuvre their way around all the vehicles that are parking outside my door. It's chaos down here.'
Jenna claimed the area in front of her salon was being used as a private car park for non-commercial vehicles by people working on the TSB building and following complaints, a traffic warden arrived down to inspect the area.
'We are all paying high rates to the Council and the least they could have done was to consult with us,' said Jenna. 'I understand that the work has to go on but they should have come to us before the work started.'
Reacting to a move by the Council last weekend to take photos of the individual businesses for display on the Main Street side of the hoarding, Jenna said: 'They were quick enough to put the 'road closed' sign up the minute the work started. They should have put a 'business as usual' sign up the same day. This wouldn't have happened if it was a big business. It's an absolute joke.'
Mary Rose Kelly of Kelly's of Cornmarket said the Council has addressed some of the complaints and there is less unofficial parking and more access but the timing of the work 'is not ideal' for any of the businesses in the area.
'It's going to be the end of February before the work is finished and in that time period you're going to have the Festival, Christmas and the January sales.'
The road closure from both directions was supposed to have been in operation for a period of two weeks but was extended until October 7 to facilitate work on the roof of the four-storey building while a hoarding wrapped around the premises was extended outwards to provide a larger working area, effectively blocking the Cornmarket businesses.
'We were told about a week to 10 days before the work started. In fairness to some of the councillors we contacted, they didn't know the timeline of it. We had a meeting with the Council after we found out but there was no movement. We were told it would cost too much to postpone,' said Mary Rose.
'We knew there was going to be a hoarding around the building but we didn't know about it being extended right across the street. That is blinding businesses from the Main Street, although we're not so bad because we have a sign high up.
'New Mood and Shades hair salon are completely cut off. They've said the hoarding extension will be taken down by October 7.'
Mary Rose said businesses are not opposed to the renovation and the use of the unoccupied Permanent TSB building which is a welcome development but they are not happy with the timing of the contract.
Another business person who asked not to be named said he was 'horrified' when he learned that the area was to be blocked off at one of the busiest times of the year.
'We found out about 10 days before the scaffolding went up. We were not consulted in advance. A group of us had a meeting with the Council but we got a blank 'no' to a request to halt the work,' he said.
'They don't seem to know what they're doing up there. It's changed three times in a week,' he said, referring to differing announcements about the timing of the full road closure and the removal of the extended hoarding.
'Will the hoarding actually be taken down on October 7 or will it change again. we don't know.'
The closure of the Bullring is also understood to be causing problems for coaches which use the route to reach Clayton Whites Hotel and is expected to pose problems for trucks delivering stage sets to Wexford Festival Opera.
Cllr. Lisa McDonald said councillors were also kept in the dark about what the contract involved and she is calling for a reduction in rates for the businesses affected by the TSB work.
'It beggars belief that this project went ahead without any prior consultation by the Council with businesses in the area or with local councillors,' she said.
'The first I heard of it was from the businesses in the area who heard about it via the contractor. That is not good enough. It shows a blatant disregard for small businesses in Wexford.'
'This is something I have been raising for some time now. There is no respect or support for small businesses from Wexford County Council. These businesses are keeping the Main Street in our town alive. Now they are being disrupted at their peak earning period of the year,' said Cllr. McDonald.
'Councillors expressed their dissatisfaction but now to make matters worse, the period of closure is being extended causing further traffic chaos throughout the town and turning a certain area into a private car park for for certain people.'
The Fianna Fail councillor said the 'blatant disregard' for businesses also extended to the Borough District Council.
Calling for a reduction in rates for affected businesses, she added: 'It is my opinion that they have a very good case.'
The Council has taken a 15-year lease on the Permanent TSB building from the property owner.
Cllr. Ger Carthy said the first thing he heard about it was from business people in the area.
'There was no consultation', said the Independent councillor as he agreed with Cllr. McDonald's call for a rates reduction to disrupted businesses.
'I was Mayor in 2016 when this project was first mooted and I was told it would be finished at the end of my term which was June of that year. Absolutely I think there should be a rates reduction.
'The Council is happy enough to take rates from business people. It's very difficult to run a business at Festival time or Christmas when the roads are blocked up outside your door.'