Page last updated at 03:40 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

When roadworks wreck your business

By James Ingham
BBC News

Completely Kids
Obscured by the work, the shop's sales have plummeted

It is not easy to see Dena and Martin Rose's shop.

From across the busy street, roadworks block the view.

A two-metre high wooden barrier has been erected right in front of their window and parking bays have been removed.

"How could they do this to us," says Ms Rose as she takes in the scene in front of her children's clothes and shoe shop.

"Just a few weeks to go before Christmas. This is going to ruin us."

On the Monday when the men started, the shop's sales totalled 24.

"We've never had a day that bad in the 18 months we've been here," says Ms Rose.

"That week our takings halved, so it's definitely the work."

Not helpful

Completely Kids is one of about a dozen shops affected by the flood prevention work being carried out in Edgware, in the London Borough of Barnet.

Dena Rose
I've got six kids who need a roof over their heads
Dena Rose

The traders running each of them are angry about the timing. All agree the work needs to be done, but wonder why it must be done right now.

"The government says it's supporting small businesses at this difficult time," says Mr Rose, as he calls together a little huddle of his neighbours on the pavement outside.

"But then the council allows this. It's crazy."

Barnet Council knows about their concerns and has taken action.

"We've visited the traders and raised their issues with Thames Water," it says in a statement that went on to insist "a number of these have been taken on board".

As Dena and her husband explain the problem, the contractors outside begin to dismantle the barrier that is blocking their shop front.

Thames Water says it is in response to the shopkeepers' vociferous complaints.

"We will continue to consult with traders throughout the project to see how we can reduce disruption and any impact on their business," the company says.

Legal responsibility

Across the country, roadworks are a constant source of annoyance for residents, businesses, drivers and pedestrians.

Builder outside Dena and Martin Rose's shop
Confrontations with the builders appear to have produced results

But they are a necessary evil.

With miles of cables and pipes hidden under every road, it is inevitable that the companies that own them will need to dig them up.

Every time they do, it is councils they have to ask.

"Councils have a legal responsibility to manage their road networks and to keep them flowing," explains Caroline Green from the Local Government Association.

"But this can be very difficult in practice with so many demands."

Most local authorities across the UK keep a database of planned works with the aim of reducing disruption.

Some are more successful than others.

"There are lots of examples of good practice out there," the LGA spokeswoman says.

"We encourage all authorities to make this a priority, but we also need cooperation from the utility companies."

Hope for customers

But the best made plans can be wrecked when things go wrong.

The work now starting in Edgware had been due to begin much earlier in the year, but emergency gas works put paid to that.

Ms Rose and her fellow irate neighbours say they are pleased to see the hoardings shrink.

For them, it was a small victory.

But they still face a difficult Christmas.

"We put our house on the line to borrow money to set up this business," says Ms Rose anxiously, "and I've got six kids who need a roof over their heads."

They may be slightly placated that they will be able to apply for compensation from Thames Water.

But that will take time and for now, they are simply hoping that customers will still walk through the door.

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