Business owners near Alexandria’s Main Street have said they fear for the future of their premises due to “chaotic” renovation works.

Representatives from Hobson’s Choice, the Fountain Café, Susie’s Wool, W&J Sloan butchers, Lomond Fishmongers and Jimmy’s Cards and Gift Shop spoke to the Reporter during a recent visit amid construction work to increase the pavement width and renovate the historic Smollett Fountain.

All described the hard-hitting impact of a decline in footfall – with turnover reportedly down by as much as half – as well as “a complete lack of communication” from West Dunbartonshire Council.

Work on the roadwork phase of the improvement plans began on May 9. Business owners were handed a flyer outlining the five phases of the construction, with work due to be complete in November.

Connor Bryce

Connor Bryce

Stevie Hobson, owner of the Hobson’s Choice repair and alterations shop, says locals are paying a price for the works and he already doubts the project will run to schedule.

He said: “I don’t disagree the place is needing to be redeveloped, but I don’t think it should be at our cost. The council, in their wisdom, say there won’t be a penalty for them working over November. And who takes six months to do anything?”

The business owners expressed frustration at the lack of visible work.

In September last year, the council’s planning committee approved proposals to spend £15 million on regenerating Alexandria town centre, including the roadworks project.

At present, a large chunk of the pavement on one side of the busy road is now completely cordoned off, with a three-way temporary single file traffic system in place.

Although the council claims they consulted traders and the community, Jackie Bain, owner of the Fountain Café, says otherwise.

She said: “We didn’t get consulted. We were opened through Covid. At no point did the council approach us and ask us to participate in finding out what the people wanted in the Vale.

“We just found out that it was happening, and the money has already been given out.”

Connor Bryce

Connor Bryce

Of the six shops the Reporter visited last week, not one worker said they could remember being consulted.

Susie’s Wool Shop is situated on Gilmour Street, just off Main Street, and the junction from the main road has been shut off because of the roadworks.

But Susie Smillie from the store, claims she was given assurances her road wouldn’t be affected. She said: “Cutting our access off completely is horrendous.”

She added that trade had been lower than usual and regular customers had instead called to ask her to deliver to them instead – but amid a cost-of-living crisis this also has an impact.

Derek Sloan, owner of W&J Sloan butchers, said he believes the council are making the wrong alterations. He said: “People like to just pull-up, park, jump in and go, which they can’t do now.

“I don’t know if they are trying to create this kind of European kind of feel, that’s the impression I am getting.

Derek Sloan, of W&J Sloan Butchers

Derek Sloan, of W&J Sloan Butchers

“Really, all we are needing is parking bays, a 15-minute stay, a traffic warden to oversee it, that’s all.

“We’re not needing this. Even when it is done, I don’t see it bringing people here. It is just making things more awkward.”

The fear now is the perceived lack of access for locals to the shops ill cause some businesses to be unable continue if the planned restoration and disruption lasts until November.

Mr Hobson added that taking in just £13 in one afternoon was unheard of in his 30 years on the street.

Councillor Jim Bollan, who represents the Lomond ward for the Community Party, called for discounted rental rates for these businesses whilst the work is ongoing.

That is a thought shared by the independent family businesses along Main Street, with David McCallum, of Lomond Fishmongers, who also owns a coffee shop nearby.

David McCallum, of Lomond Fishmongers

David McCallum, of Lomond Fishmongers

He said: “The main problem is, passing footfall. There is nobody coming in on the off-chance.

“Cameron House has opened again, so that’s meant there are a few people about. We are missing out on the tourists.

“I don’t think I’ll go under because my customer base is very loyal. But my coffee bar, yeah, almost definitely will go under.

“Certainly, some sort of money back or some sort of loan would definitely help. But what we really need is to tell us what they are actually doing, how long it’s going to take and do some work.

“There is nobody working here to do the actual work – they haven’t actually worked here for five or six days. It’s just a mess.”

Labour ward councillor Michelle McGinty, said the former SNP administration had “let the traders down” by not listening to them.

She added: “The traders need help and they need it now.

“We need to get the message out there that the town centre is open for business and we need the local community to make a point in coming into town to support the traders.

“The signage and lighting needs to be improved to let people know that they can come into Alexandria, park up and use the shops.

“I will be raising this with the leader of the council and senior officers to see what else we can do. Alexandria is seen as the heart of the Vale by local people. It’s where we shop, eat and meet people. Without a steady flow of locals into the town, its heart will weaken and may not fully recover.”

Connor Bryce

Connor Bryce

Ian Dickson, SNP councillor for the Leven ward, said it was “vital” to protect businesses and emphasised that the shops can still be accessed.

He added: “Had the SNP formed the council administration, our intention was to have regeneration officers liaise with local businesses once the works had started to measure any short-term impact, and agree a way in which the council could reduce and mitigate any effect from the regeneration works.

“These works were agreed unanimously by both Labour and SNP councillors at IRED so it is important for all the councillors to work together to benefit our town and its visitors, residents and our retailers.”

A spokesperson for West Dunbartonshire Council said: “We understand the challenges presented by any long-term work and continue to liaise with both local traders and residents to provide support and reassurance.

“As well as multiple consultation opportunities and regular updates on timescales and progress, we also installed clear signage to advise that businesses are open as normal before any work began.

“We are committed to making positive changes in Alexandria for the benefit of all residents.

“When complete this project will improve pedestrian and cyclist safety and create an attractive and welcoming town centre, celebrating the B-listed Smollett Fountain as the Heart of the Vale.”