Hornchurch roadworks misery - will it lead to a better future?

Hornchurch town centre after the work has finished

Hornchurch town centre after the work has finished - Credit: Archant

A look at the ongoing roadworks in Hornchurch town centre.

Cllr Robert Benham showing plans to Lee Blackledge of TipToes, Hornchurch.

Cllr Robert Benham showing plans to Lee Blackledge of TipToes, Hornchurch. - Credit: Archant

The wide-eyed wonder of a schoolgirl as she walked into the sweetshop caught the attention of everyone else in store.

Roadworks in Hornchurch town centre

Roadworks in Hornchurch town centre - Credit: Archant

“Wow, this is like a dream shop, it’s just amazing,” she announced.

“We get that a lot,” said Toby Clark, co-owner of the Sweet Store, which until two weeks ago was on Station Lane, Hornchurch.

Toby and his sister Lindsey Worton, had run the store for three years, but threw in the towel to become an online-only business.

On the Monday before it closed, Toby explained: “This shop is a testament to what’s wrong with Hornchurch. Apart from when the Olympics was on and they weren’t allowed to do it, there’s been non-stop roadworks for the last two years.

Endless disruption

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“The first year we were open we were fine – that was in 2009, a year after the economic problems started – but since the roadworks started, like-for-like footfall has fallen by 60 per cent.”

On Febnruary 25, Hornchurch High Street was closed to vehicles and diversions put in place (see map below).

As well as the sweet shop, the area has recently lost Michael’s of Hornchurch butchers and Waitrose, with Burton’s set to close shortly.

A rumour that Starbucks is set to move in to Hornchurch is not true, the company said.

Helene Hezeques and Sergio Gaspar, from Le Moulin patisserie, told the Romford Recorder about seemingly endless disruption outside their Station Lane premises, including moved bus stops, removed dustbins and months spent over putting in two new trees.

Sergio said: “When they closed the [nearby] bus stop, people didn’t know where they were going, we had to drive our customers home.”

Helene added: “They block parts of the road for so long that people change their habits and they no longer come to Hornchurch if it takes them 30-45 minutes to drive here.

“But the worst part is, they haven’t asked us if we want the work done here, or how we would spend the money, they don’t listen to us.”

At Say Cheese, a camera shop which has been on the High Street for 23 years, the feeling is similar.

Co-owner Dawn Mansfield, said: “It’s causing big disruption right outside my shop. Everyone keeps coming in and asking me when road closures are happening and for how long, but we just don’t know.”

But not everyone is so downbeat. A Little Havens hospice shop is one of several charity shops in the area now. Although a repeated target of crime, as reported in last week’s Romford Recorder, the store took more than £9,000 in sales during its first month on the High Street to go towards the care of children with life limiting illnesses.

Rob Tucker, of Tucker Brothers electronic shop, which has been on Station Lane for 80 years, said: “When it’s finished, if they do what they say it is going to do, it will ease the traffic flow.

“At the moment people coming into the shop are saying its taking them an extremely long time, but we have a lot of loyal customers and people do continue to come here.”

And Lee Blackledge, owner of Tip Toes shoe repairs and engravers, is upbeat: “The small part they’ve done already looks good, and when it’s finished I think it will be really impressive,” he said. “It’s hard to compete with Lakeside and Bluewater which are indoors, so the nicer it looks here, the better.”

He added: “We need a grand opening when it’s done too, to really get the message out there.”

Meanwhile Johnpaul Wyndham, of Wyndham Hair, pointed out a picture of the High Street in Brian Evan’s Pictorial History of Hornchurch and Upminster.

“What they’re doing now sounds just like the High Street in the 1930s, before it was changed in the 1960s – wide pavements, a two lane road and lovely old buildings. But no one is accountable for that. And will anyone be accountable for this?”

Havering Council said that after speaking to business owners in the area they took the decision to close a section of Hornchurch High Street, between Billet Lane and North Street, to get the latest phase of work completed as soon as possible.

Cllr Robert Benham, cabinet member for community empowerment, said: “We know that the works are likely to cause some disruption and we want to minimise this.

“We have spoken to business owners who could be affected in the next stage and they have told us that they would prefer to close a section of the road for a short period of time so the work can be done quicker.

“Closing the road will make the area safer for pedestrians and the diverted traffic will be able to flow through the town easier while work is taking place.”

The closure began on February 25 and is due to last until “early summer”. Traffic is currently diverted from the High Street to Billet Lane, North Street and Appleton Way.

While the road is closed the pavements are open to pedestrians and the shops will remain open.

Councillor Benham said: “We are sorry that there has been some disruption and we are working hard to minimise this.”