Rumours of Penwortham’s “death by bypass” have been greatly exaggerated, say traders.
Two months on from the opening of the town’s £17.5m relief road, businesses who feared a dramatic slump in income are starting to admit: “It isn’t half as bad as we thought.”
While some on the main street have taken a knock in takings due to a fall in passing trade, most say the impact has been much less than expected.
And with the night-time economy booming following the opening of two more new bars, the scare stories about the John Horrocks Way are vanishing faster than the traffic.
“I honestly thought it would be a ghost town once the new road opened,” said Russell Clayton from Penwortham Garage. “But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how busy the road still is.”
And charity shop worker Susie Healan added: “The main street has got a nice feel about it now. I live in Penwortham and personally I think it’s a positive thing.”
Businesses came together last summer to sound the alarm after highways bosses at County Hall announced they would shut the slip road which links the town with Preston, forcing even more traffic to make a lengthy detour.
Mr Clayton was one of those who joined the protest. At the time he said: “I think Broughton is a fine example of how you can ruin a town. If they do the same thing to Penwortham it will be the death knell for us.”
But two months since the road was blocked off, he is the first to admit: “It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.
“I think some of that is down to the bars and cafes that have sprung up. They are keeping it going and Penwortham has become a come-to place.”
Natalie Connor manages the International Aid Trust - one of six charity shops on the main street.
She said: “For the first couple of weeks after the bypass opened, it was very quiet because they shut Liverpool Road further up. But it’s difficult to say now - I don’t think it is significantly different to what it was like before.
“We are still getting lots of people calling in with donations. And we still get our regulars coming in. One woman who lives in Southport still comes every month on the bus and does a circuit of all the charity shops here.”
One business which has seen a significant dip in trade, though, has been the Penwortham Post Office.
Postmaster Andrew Gaunt estimates his business is down by around 20 per cent since the bypass opened, although takings in the rest of his shop on Liverpool Road have actually improved.
“It’s funny really,” he said. “The shop has done a little bit better, while the Post Office has done much worse. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because the shop is hyper-local, with customers living within a mile or so, while the Post Office draws from a bigger area.
“I was dreading it really - and we could have done without them closing Liverpool Road just before Christmas at our busiest time of the year. But overall I think we are going to be okay.
“I live in Penwortham and the air quality is definitely an improvement.”
Another charity shop boss, Susie Healan from the Cats Protection, said: “It’s not really affected us as far as I can tell. The same number of people are still coming in. In fact we’ve had more donations than we had before.
“I live locally and I think it’s positive. The main street has a nice feel to it. It hasn’t been as bad as we thought.”
The town’s Spar shop says it has noticed a difference with the fall in passing trade, especially in the morning rush hour when the town used to have nose-to-tail traffic.
But relief manager Steve Rimmer said he thought it would take a few more weeks before a full assessment could be made.
“I looked at the figures last week and they were virtually the same compared to last year,” he said. “I think we have taken a hit on sales of things like hot coffee in a morning as people are heading to work. But generally trade across the board is holding its own.
“Let’s wait and see. We’ve got to give it at least another month before we judge things.”
Staff at Age UK’s shop admitted: “We’re doing great because the parking is easier now.”
Manager Jan Walmsley said: “It’s not affected us in a bad way. We were quite worried about what would happen when the bypass started taking two-third of the traffic out of the town centre. But it’s been fine.”
And Sophie Green at the NoMatch vape shop admitted: “We are doing all right really. But people travel to us, we don’t rely on passing trade.
“I live in Hutton and I think the bypass is great. I can get to work easily and we can cross the road in Penwortham now without having to dodge traffic.”
Dave Mulholland, who runs the Upper Crust Craft Bakery, added: “It’s just the same as it was before for us. We haven’t noticed a change in trade at all.”
The man responsible for highways and transport in Lancashire, Coun Keith Iddon, said the county council was “pleased” with the way things have worked out following the opening of the bypass.
“Penwortham is a great place to visit,” told the Post. “It has nice shops, cafes and bars, many of which are also independently-owned.
“We’re really pleased with John Horrocks Way. It has taken away a lot of the unnecessary through-traffic, reduced congestion in the town, made it a nicer place to visit and improved it for people who live and work there.
“Journey times have improved and the network seems to be working well. We also opened the new cycle lane over Penwortham Bridge.
“Since the opening of the new road, we’ve improved the signage and markings at Broad Oak Roundabout, particularly to benefit people heading to Bank Top Road. We know there have been some issues and are continuing to monitor the layout.
“Our team worked really hard to build John Horrocks Way, and deliver a significant change to this part of the highway network.
“We’re pleased that people and businesses are already seeing benefits from the new road, and that new businesses are opening here.”