Fed up traders braced for legal action over A41 Bilston Road Metro works
Fed up traders have revealed they are considering legal action over the long-running Midland Metro scheme they say is destroying their businesses.
A mile-long section of the A41 Bilston Road is being torn up as part of a six-month Midland Metro Alliance (MMA) project to replace tram tracks.
But the work has taken a heavy toll on businesses along the stretch, with some being forced to shut down due to their trade disappearing and others reporting huge losses in revenue.
Bosses at car dealership Mazcare say they have lost £104,000 in business since the work started in June, while in recent days family-run firm The Grafix Workshop on Cable Street and Smoke Busters on Bilston Road have both shut down due to the work. Bilston Road is closed heading into town while tram tracks are replaced in the centre of the carriageway.
The work is being carried out by the MMA on behalf of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). It is due to be completed by Christmas.
Diversions are in place all the way down to Cullwick Street. Traders say the route heading towards Bilston is gridlocked during the day, with no space available for drivers to pull in on the road.
Rakesh Ladher, secretary of the Bilston Road Action Group, which represents more than 60 companies affected by the work, said the situation had reached ‘crisis point’. He said businesses were frustrated by the lack of consultation prior to the start of the work, and accused the MMA of failing to consider the impact that the disruption would have on traders.
“We are looking at the option of taking legal action against the MMA,” said Mr Ladher, who has run the Red Lion pub on Bilston Road since 1994.
“There seems to be a complete lack of concern on their part for the way the work has been handled and the effect it has had.
“People’s livelihoods are at stake. Businesses that have been down here for years are going out of business.
“At the very least we need a hardship fund to help make up for some of the trade we have lost. Legal action is very much a last resort but we feel we have been pushed into a corner here.”
Mr Ladher said trade at his pub had been ‘reduced to virtually zero’ on weekends. “We used to rely on a good crowd on Saturdays, particularly when the football was on. But why would you sit in a traffic jam to get to a pub? They just go elsewhere instead.”
Kimberley Holden said she had been left with no choice but to close The Grafix Workshop after trade fell by 80 per cent.
“Wolverhampton centre is being developed, but at the same time just down the road they are destroying the businesses on one of the main routes into the city,” she said. “It got to the point where we just couldn’t carry on. At this rate by the time the work is finished there won’t be anyone left down here.” Several other firms told the Express & Star they are on the brink of closure. They include Life Styles Bridal on Bilston Road, whose owner Karen Peters says she has not had a single new customer in almost a month.
Coffee Express owner Abi Hatipoglu said he has had to lay off two staff and cut the hours of others as a result of the works, which has seen his trade slashed in half.
“It is becoming more and more difficult to keep going,” he said.
Ann Creed, a sales manager at Mazcare on Bilston Road, said: “The bottom line is that this work has stopped customers from getting to our businesses.
“Since June we have lost £104,000 worth of turnover. That is a big hit for an independent trader. The whole thing has been incredibly badly managed.”
Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden has met with traders on several occasions to listen to their concerns.
He said it was time for the MMA to adopt a ‘positive, constructive attitude’ in its dealings with traders.
“The businesses affected by these works are struggling to keep going through a really tough period,” he added. “The Midland Metro Alliance should be supporting the businesses’ efforts to keep trading during the period of the works.”
Laura Shoaf, managing director of Transport for West Midlands, said the MMA and Wolverhampton council had worked with traders to try and mitigate the effects of the works.
“Businesses have been given advice on applying for rate relief from the Valuation Office, and for Hardship Relief if they can supply evidence of the impact of the works on their trade,” she said.
“The alliance and the council have also met regularly with the traders, both individually and via the Bilston Road Action Group, and have provided marketing support.
Ms Shoaf said on this and other projects, the MMA was enabling employment and training placements for residents and young people from Wolverhampton and the wider region. They are also engaged with local businesses promoting the considerable supply chain opportunities, she added.
She said that passenger numbers were forecast to increase from around 6.5 million to more than 30 million over the next decade as future Metro extensions are launched, including in Wolverhampton city centre and the extension between Wednesbury and Brierley Hill.
“The Midland Metro is key to the Black Country and the region. Once complete the network will enable us to generate an extra £4 billion a year for the West Midlands economy and creating more than 50,000 new jobs as a whole,” she added.
“It is imperative we have the right transport connections in place to best connect and feed into the forthcoming high speed rail line.”