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Gravesend business fear bankruptcy as Milton Road closure is extended due to pub blaze clean-up in Queen Street

Business owners fear they may go bankrupt as a four-week road closure is extended.

Milton Road in Gravesend was shut on May 26 following a major blaze which saw a former pub collapse into the street.

It was expected to re-open by 5pm on Friday, June 10, but Kent Highways has since confirmed the closure will be in place until 6pm on Wednesday, July 6.

Jack Kamenou who owns Reliance Fish Restaurant in Queen Street said he fears the shop will go under as customers cannot access the street.

"We have been here 102 years but it is looking like we will go bankrupt," he said. "It is really bad. Covid has got nothing on this, it is just awful.

"It is unbelievable, we need help. It has taken four weeks (for the owners and the council) to come to an agreement but in the meantime the whole town is suffering.

"When people see the barriers they just do not bother to come down. Everyone is in that mind set that is is still closed.

"We were 90% down in takings when the road was shut to pedestrians but now we are around 70%. It is not far off and we are all going to go under.

Scaffolding has been put up. Picture: Jack Kamenou
Scaffolding has been put up. Picture: Jack Kamenou

"I worked for almost two years without a day off for this to knock us back. At the end of the day we are being left out to dry."

The 55-year-old who has worked at the eatery for 35 years has already felt the pinch of increasing fish and oil prices and explained the delivery services are also cancelling orders as they do not think they can access the restaurant.

Jack added: "Four weeks this has taken because it is a Grade II listed building there is nothing to save. It could have been cleared in three days. The owner wants to clear it as soon as possible.

"My disabled customers cannot park outside and they cannot get down to me. You can walk down the road but the signs still say you cannot.

"It has impacted all the shops from the clock tower, it must be around 30 to 40 shops at least. I understand old buildings need saving but not at the detriment of 40 businesses.

"This end of town is like a no man's land, it is awful. On Tuesday, I had been open from 11 and I usually would have 30 odd customers but I had two.

"It is scary. I worked seven days a week for two years to keep this shop open and now it is out of my hands. I am putting my hand into my own pocket for four weeks to keep this open. I am having to go into my savings.

The road is expected to be closed until July 6. Picture: Jack Kamenou
The road is expected to be closed until July 6. Picture: Jack Kamenou

"All we ask them to do is to get the scaffolding up, put some blockades around it and open the road."

The route through the town centre was closed on May 26 following a fire in the former New Inn Pub on the junction with Queen Street.

Firefighters were at the scene for around 24 hours after flames broke out at around 1pm. At its peak, nine fire engines were in attendance along with a height vehicle.

By 4pm, that number had been reduced to seven engines and the height vehicle, with crews continuing to fight the flames and cut away any hot spots.

By 8.30pm, it had been scaled back to six crews who were turning over and damping down as an investigation was launched into the cause.

Firefighters remained on the scene holding a watching brief overnight to make sure the fire did not reignite, and to keep the scene safe.

The remains of the old New Inn pub on Friday, May 27
The remains of the old New Inn pub on Friday, May 27

Crews were still monitoring the remains and carrying out their investigation into how it started the next morning.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service operations did not fully stop until just before 12.30pm on May 27 and a spokesman said: "It is believed the fire started due to an electrical fault."

Ha Tran, owner of a neighbouring business, Asian Market, added: "It has affected us badly. A lot of people are not sure they can come down here and they did not want to break the law by doing so. They do not know how to get here.

"We have lost a lot of trade but we still need to pay rent and bills. It is really bad and we do not know how long it is going to be like this.

"It has reduced a lot of our takings, about half. With Asian food, we have a lot of huge bags of rice and sauce and if people cannot park outside then it is too heavy to buy and carry to a car. The road needs to be done quickly, it has had an affect."

The manager of The Cake Box on Milton Road, Jas Willis, also reported there has been a decrease in orders and drop-ins.

Manager of The Cake Box Jas Willis (left) said business has been affected. Picture: Phil Lee
Manager of The Cake Box Jas Willis (left) said business has been affected. Picture: Phil Lee

She said: "A lot of people park outside the shop and with less footfall business has gone down. I cannot see we would be out of business but it has definitely affected us.

"With Father's Day, we were not as busy as previous years. The sooner they get the road open the better.

"I understand it has got to be safe but at the same time it is hurting the businesses."

But not everyone is seeing this, Eve King who owns the Sewing Centre on Queen Street said she has not seen a difference in her sales.

She added: "It has not affected me. There are people crying in the street but people who want my specific products know where to find me."

Kent Highways has said alternative routes are available.

The remains on Friday, May 27 as the building collapsed into the street
The remains on Friday, May 27 as the building collapsed into the street

The affected roads are Harmer Street, Milton Street, Ordnance Road, Edwin Street, Berkley Road, West Crescent Road and The Grove.

A spokesman for Gravesham council said: "We are aware of the disruption, inconvenience, and impact that the fire and building collapse is causing to local businesses and traffic in town.

"There is pedestrian access to the businesses in Queen Street and changes have been made to the road network to help vehicle access from the northern end of Queen Street.

"We confirmed to the property owner several weeks ago the steps that they need to safeguard and make safe the site in line with their legal responsibilities for a Grade II listed building.

"Although this has taken longer than anticipated we are pleased to see that works have now started and we will continue to press the owner for those actions to be completed as soon as possible, which will also mean that Milton Road can be reopened.

"We are sympathetic to those business that have been impacted by the fire and will do our best to ensure the works continue onsite so that the roads and access can be reopened.

"Businesses affected should contact their insurance companies to see if they can make a case for a claim on their business interruption insurance."

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