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Pluckley businesses hit out at months-long South East Water roadworks in Smarden Road


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Frustrated business owners say they are losing thousands in trade after being "isolated" by months-long roadworks near Ashford.

South East Water works in Pluckley have closed a major road into the village – and they are scheduled to continue for another six months.

South East Water roadworks have cut off a major road to Pluckley
South East Water roadworks have cut off a major road to Pluckley

The £700,000 project, which involves replacing 1.2 kilometres of 70-year-old water pipe, started in November and is now in its second phase of six.

It has seen a full road closure on sections of Smarden Road, with the second phase closing a stretch from The Street to Egerton Road.

David Luckhurst, who owns D.R. Luckhurst butchers, says the closure is "crippling" the village.

"I've compared takings and we're quite a bit down per week on last year – January is a quiet month anyway but this will be going on for a long time," he explained.

"I'm worried the customers we worked so hard to earn since moving here four years ago will go back to the supermarkets, simply because it's so difficult to get to the village at the moment.

David Luckhurst owns D.R. Luckhurst butchers
David Luckhurst owns D.R. Luckhurst butchers
The six stages of work on Smarden Road
The six stages of work on Smarden Road

"One of the main problems is the signage – there's nothing to say that businesses are open and the 'road closed' signs are so far in advance of the village that people just aren't even bothering.

"They say that it's to stop HGVs from trying to use the back roads, but even if that were to work, what about our customers?"

The works are also affecting Pluckley's famous 'haunted' pub, The Black Horse, with the shut-off stretch of road cutting off access to its car park.

New owners Lee Varnham and Gemma O'Brien say the impact of closures has cut off the momentum they built after opening in May of last year.

"It has been absolutely catastrophic; I'd estimate we have been losing about £1,500 a week," Mr Varnham said.

The work is being carried out right next to The Black Horse pub
The work is being carried out right next to The Black Horse pub
Lee Varnham and Gemma O'Brien run The Black Horse pub
Lee Varnham and Gemma O'Brien run The Black Horse pub

"During the weekday afternoons we used to serve on average 10 to 12 tables for lunch at a minimum, but at the moment we’re lucky if we see two.

"We’re having so many customers either turning away because they’re getting lost in the evenings, and then those who do make it are sometimes so shaken up by the route they’ve tried to take to avoid the massive diversion that they just rush through dinner and try and get home."

A diversion suggests that drivers wanting to reach Charing from the other side of the closure travel to Ashford via High Halden before taking the A20 west.

However, Mr Varnham says that the 25-mile diversion is often ignored due to the length of time it takes to traverse, with many people trying to take to small country lanes instead.

"Our staff are refusing to work late shifts as they are worried about driving through the diversion or country roads in the dark which I understand," explained Mr Varnham.

The 25-mile diversion suggested by South East Water
The 25-mile diversion suggested by South East Water
There are worries that the suggested diversion is being ignored
There are worries that the suggested diversion is being ignored

"On top of that we’re having to ask them to take our rubbish to the tip as Veolia [the waste management company] isn't able to reach our bins because of the road closure.

"As a food-based business this is of obvious concern and we’ve had to pay our pest control company more than double to keep an increased eye out to prevent any vermin being encouraged by the increase in waste building up."

Mrs O'Brien added: "It’s just such a shame because we were building up a real head of steam, people were coming in and loving it.

“This, on the back of the Omicron wave, has stopped us dead in our tracks.”

Jeremy Dufour, South East Water project manager, issued a statement in response to the concerns.

Country lanes around the village are being chewed up by motorists trying to get around the closure
Country lanes around the village are being chewed up by motorists trying to get around the closure
Country lanes around the village are being chewed up by motorists trying to get around the closure
Country lanes around the village are being chewed up by motorists trying to get around the closure

He said: “We are really sorry to anyone who has been disrupted by our vital, ongoing £700,000 engineering work to replace an unreliable 70-year-old water main in Smarden Road, Pluckley with new pipe to continue to provide top quality drinking water to the area.

“We have now entered the second phase of the project which was always planned to be carried out under a full road closure which is necessary to keep our workforce and local people safe at all times.

“Initially, we had planned to end the first phase of work using temporary traffic lights but due to the hard work of our construction team, we were able to complete that section of work early and therefore the temporary lights were not needed.

Work is ongoing to replace a 70-year-old water pipe
Work is ongoing to replace a 70-year-old water pipe

“Our project team has been in constant dialogue with both the community and local businesses from the start of the planning process and discussions will continue until the end of the work.

"We have a dedicated customer liaison manager working on this project and we urge anyone with any issues to contact us immediately so we can help provide a solution.

“Our diversion route is very clearly signed to safely direct all motorists around our working area.

"Access to homes and businesses is always maintained and any updates or changes are publicised well in advance on our dedicated webpage."

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