WORK to regenerate Wokingham town centre has been halted to enable workmen to go on a two-week festive break, despite being behind schedule.
And under siege retailers, already struggling as a result of road closures and pavement works, are furious with the shutdown.
Last week, Wokingham Borough Council said that it had not been possible to re-open the Broad Street side of Market Place before Christmas, due to the recent bad weather and unforeseen problems with the groundworks.
They added that the two-week break had been scheduled in from the beginning of the works.
Contractors Balfour Beattie have removed temporary traffic lights on Rose Street, installed temporary tarmac in Market Place and put white netting around the works in Broad Street.
But retailers are unhappy with the shutdown, which comes as shoppers prepare to get those last minute presents. Some have been affected by traffic problems that the road closures have caused, while others say that business in down.
Georgina Hustler, who runs Antique Rose in Bush Walk, said: “We’ve been let down by the council, the builders and everyone. We need shoppers to rise above that and support Wokingham regardless.
“Once again, we’ve been second thoughts in the minds of the powers-that-be. They’d committed to finish [Broad Street] by Christmas, but they’ve just gone on holiday. They should have worked to Christmas Eve to get it open.”
Gill Bell from John Bell Carpets said that the white tarpaulin erected on the barriers around the work made the area look like a crime scene.
She said: “You’d think they’d pull out all the stops to get it finished. Instead, we’re paying for them to have a two-week break. It’s unbelievable. I genuinely don’t understand it. They should be working to catch up.
“It’s totally and utterly disappointing.”
And home delivery company Supper has been hit by the delays caused by the traffic, calling for Langborough Road to be reopened in both directions. Some of its deliveries have had to be canned as they couldn’t meet safety requirements due to the traffic jams on the borough’s roads.
Duncan Scott said: “We have to get food to our customers at a certain temperature. It should be delivered within 15 minutes. It’s pretty much unservable if we can’t get it to a customer within 30 minutes.
“It feels like the food hygiene department at the council should be lobbying on our behalf. But there’s no communication from the council – they don’t communicate.”
But Cllr Chris Bowring, Wokingham Borough Council’s executive member for highways and transport, defended the work.
He said: “Due to the complex nature of the project, it was always ambitious to expect the Broad Street side of Market Place to be re-opened in time for Christmas. The contractor unfortunately confirmed that despite its best efforts it’s just not been possible. We’re obviously as disappointed as everyone.
“The planned Christmas break, which is usual practice for construction companies around the country, does not impact on the long-term completion date. By halting all of the construction work now and opening up the area as much as possible we hope that shoppers and businesses will benefit from the increased access around the town centre.
“The next phase of the project in the New Year sees us completing the works in Broad Street and removing the paving blocks in the central area of Market Place; as the latter is more than a week’s work, realistically it would not have been completed until after Christmas.
“We felt this upheaval was too disruptive to the town and therefore it was best to open up the space as far as possible for residents and businesses in the final approach to Christmas and during the holiday period. Balfour Beatty therefore agreed to bring forward their planned break.”