Businesses along the A59 call for better road signage to let drivers know they are open

Fed-up business owners who have suffered a drastic drop in trade following the closure of the A59 at Kex Gill have criticised the county council for its 'lack of support'.

Thursday, 28th January 2016, 1:35 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th January 2016, 2:39 pm
A59 local business owners Beverley Abbott (Fewston Farm Shop), Andrew Ashby( Millstones), Howard Barker (Petties Paws), Lee Abbott (Fewston Farm Shop) and Andrea Barker (Petties Paws) stand in the middle of an empty A59. (1601264AM1)

The authority was forced to shut the major route, which runs between Harrogate and Skipton, on January 5 after heavy rain caused substantial cracks on the slope.

As a result, businesses along the A59 have been hit hard, with some not seeing a single customer for days.

At a public meeting attended by more than 100 residents last Wednesday, the county council stressed that it had been doing its best to support the businesses.

However, many argued that this simply wasn’t the case. Washburn councillor Howard Barker said: “The county council came with a presentation about the closure and they said they were helping small businesses.

“As the meeting progressed it soon became fairly apparent that a lot of people were very upset because they didn’t think this was true.

“It was pointless coming to a public meeting and saying they have been helping when they haven’t.”

Business owners are now calling for improved signs to let drivers know that they are still open.

Mr Barker said: “We want better signs with the names of the businesses that are badly affected displayed as people are leaving Harrogate so they know we are open and the businesses are there.

“The county council said they were going to go away and have a look at everything and see how they could improve things, including looking at putting some signs up to promote the small businesses.

“As yet we haven’t heard anything, so we will have to wait and see.”

Mr Barker, who owns Petties Paws boarding kennels and cattery in Fewston, has witnessed at first hand a drop in trade.

He said: “Day customers that commute from Skipton and Harrogate that used to come five days are now coming maybe two or three as they are working from home or making other arrangements.

“As far as farm shops, restaurants and suchlike are concerned, trade has gone down to nearly nothing really.

“As for the closure of the A59, we have to live with that, it’s just one of those things, but we all need support.

“All the businesses are staying in touch and we talk regularly regarding how we can improve things and promote ourselves.”

North Yorkshire’s chief executive for Highways, County Councillor Don Mackenzie (Con, Saltergate), who gave a presentation on the situation at the public meeting, expressed his sympathy for business owners, who were relying on passing trade.

However, he said it was unlikely affected businesses would be listed on road signs.

He said: “We are helping local businesses as much as we can. The best way to help them is to reopen the A59 as soon as possible and that’s exactly what we are trying to do.

“We have got signs up in Harrogate which says the A59 is closed at Kex Gill and support signs saying that all businesses leading up to the closure are open.

“We have had a request to put business names on these signs and officers are going to look into that.

“However, it’s a bit difficult when there are lots of businesses.

“The road sign needs to be fairly big, you need to be able to read it when you are travelling at 30 miles per hour and the road sign must not increase the hazard in the road.

“If there is too much information it’s very difficult to do that safely.

“I think our officers are going to look at concentrated signs involving one or two businesses.

“But we are assuring all drivers that all businesses are open right up to Kex Gill.”

North Yorkshire County Council’s contractors began work on Monday, January 18, to install a temporary solution designed by geotechnical engineers to drain water away from the area of instability.

The work is expected to take up to six weeks and, during that time, the county council will examine traffic management following concerns raised over access to minor roads.

Coun Mackenzie said: “We have contacted several residents after the meeting and have taken special measures for them to improve access so they are not as affected by the closure as they would have been.”

Coun Mackenzie stressed the authority’s long-term aim was to reroute the A59 away from Kex Gill as it “wasn’t suitable for a major transpennine route”.

He said: “We have identified this as a priority in our Strategic Transport Prospectus for improving east‐west connectivity. The cost of such a scheme is currently estimated at in the region of £33m.”

The closure of the A59 at Kex Gill has seen motorists, including hauliers transporting goods between Harrogate and Skipton, face diversions of up to 10 miles, with many taking shortcuts on rural roads, causing additional delays, highway damage and safety concerns.

As well as businesses taking a hit, residents have been left feeling cut-off as a result of roads being closed and diversions through Otley and Ilkley are causing congestion in the towns.

County Councillor John Fort (Con, Pateley Bridge) said: “We are looking again at traffic management and will update parish councils shortly.”

Harrogate Borough Councillor Christine Ryder added: “As a local, I understand people’s concerns and am keen that we do all we can to address these where possible and to keep people informed of progress.

“The meeting highlighted concerns about the condition of some local roads.

“The county council has committed to carry out any safety repairs that require immediate attention on these roads as they occur during the closure period and to review the condition of local roads after the Kex Gill work is complete.”