Published: 12:37, 08 September 2020
| Updated: 13:22, 08 September 2020
Traders have hit out against Kent County Council (KCC) over plans to shut off a major access route into Sandwich in the lead up to Christmas.
The authority has announced that Sandwich Tollbridge will be closed from September 21 for 11 weeks - finishing on December 5 - while essential maintenance takes place.
The works to the swing bridge's mechanical and electrical components - which have now reached the end of their serviceable life - had been due to start in mid February but were delayed due to Southern Water's nearby repair scheme and then again because of the pandemic.
But business owners fear the timing of these rescheduled works will result in the worst year for traders since the Second World War, as they dip out on vital Christmas trade.
John Van Der Dol, owner of Sandwich Card Gallery and Balloons R Us in Sandwich's King Street, is determined to overturn the decision, which he says was made without consultation.
He claims the works will "inevitably go over schedule" and has highlighted that Christmas trade doesn't begin in December but as early as September.
He said: "This is the worst year Sandwich has had since the Second World War.
"We've had three months of nothing and now we're being subject to another three months.
"Last time the tollbridge was shut my takings took a 40% dip, so this will hit us.
"People can't just walk in, they're worried about driving because of congestion and elderly people don't want to get the shuttle bus because of Covid.
"There's been no discussion, it's just been imposed on us.
"It's like they don't give a stuff about the traders."
During the bridge closure, vehicles will be diverted along the A256 and shuttle bus operating daily from 6am until midnight with operate from the Guildhall to Willowbank.
Mr Van Der Dol and other traders have written to MP Craig Mackinlay and will be holding a meeting with the Town Team on Friday.
"We've got to get this changed," he added.
"We know it needs to be done but please just wait until January. The weather wasn't an issue last year when works were due to start in February. January and February are slower months for us and it still allows plenty of time to have it done before The Open."
Cllr Paul Carter of Sandwich Town Council agrees there should have been a consultation.
He said: "Both Cllr Mark Lintott and myself have been hounded by both residents and business owners about the poor management of KCC over the tollbridge closure.
"It will have a massive affect on everyone who lives works, shops and drives through the town for the next three months. It should have been consulted on and agreed by all, not dictated to by KCC when it was convenient with them.
"KCC have put out a lot of signage and matrix boards but they all just say delays possible and give the road closure date and duration.
"There is nothing to support the shops, services or facilities in the town.
"It's a classic mis-communication exercise by KCC again who will shrug it off as they are in Maidstone and we are all suffering down at the sharp end."
A spokesman for Sandwich Town Council said: "We are aware that the Chamber of Commerce has received a lot of negative feedback from local businesses, who would like this work to be pushed back into the New Year as the timescale on this work will negatively affect their Christmas trade (for shops that are already in a precarious position due to Covid19).
"KCC’s response was that the work cannot be allowed to be delayed."
A Kent County Council spokesman said: “The closure of Sandwich swing bridge has been planned for some time for essential maintenance work.
“The original intention had been to start work in February, ahead of the planned Open Golf, but was postponed due to the Southern Water works on the A256.
“No immediate dates were then available prior to the Open and any earlier dates than September were stopped by lockdown.
“We understand the disruption that any closure will create and the date chosen is the last date available to ensure Christmas trading is not unduly affected.
“Since February, the bridge mechanism has shown further deterioration, increasing the risk of complete failure which is likely to happen during an opening and subsequently cause even more disruption to the town and the river users.
“Any delay beyond Christmas would make the maintenance work more susceptible to the weather and further delays could then impact on Easter and then the Open Golf.
“KCC apologise for any inconvenience the work is likely to cause, but the risk of not doing it now could create even greater disruption."