Forth Road Bridge: businesses reeling after closure

Hawes Inn manager Derek Dailly.   Picture Ian Rutherford
Hawes Inn manager Derek Dailly. Picture Ian Rutherford
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BUSINESSES around the Forth Road Bridge have warned they face losing tens of thousands of pounds in the run-up to Christmas.

BUSINESSES around the Forth Road Bridge have warned they face losing tens of thousands of pounds in the run-up to Christmas.

Since the bridge closed it definitely has made a difference. Especially at the end of the day, it’s like a ghost town down here

Caley Morrison

Shops and restaurants in the shadow of the vital crossing insist its shock closure last week risks having a “disastrous” impact on their takings. One eatery, the Miller & Carter Cramond Brig steakhouse just off the A90, revealed it was on track to lose as much as £50,000 over the festive period.

Others have said their takings are down by 20 per cent as punters cancel Christmas bookings and desert the High Street – leaving it looking like a “ghost town”.

Their concerns come as Labour and the Tories called for an independent inquiry into the closure of the bridge, insisting the move was the only way to uncover the full facts and ensure the disruption isn’t repeated in future.

Yesterday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “absolutely” denied claims that cuts to maintenance budgets had contributed to the shutdown.

Pete Boyd-Cross, deputy manager of the Miller & Carter Cramond Brig steakhouse, said the restaurant had lost £7000 in the last week alone. And he suggested some form of compensation should be issued to local businesses to make up for their lost earnings.

“On Friday night we probably lost about 80 people through cancelled bookings,” he said. “Over the week we have lost about £7000 – and that’s just to Saturday. Sunday was quieter than normal by about £2000. It’s just opened our eyes as to how much business we are actually getting from the bridge.

“We have even had people phoning up about Christmas Day and cancelling that, and we have been fully refunding them. There’s nothing they can do about it either. Our meats are bought in fresh – there’s no frozen meats – so there’s a lot going in the bin.”

Derek Dailly, general manager of the Hawes Inn on Newhalls Road, said the last few days had “easily been the most stressful” of his ten-year pub career. He said: “Going on last week, we are about 20 per cent down on what we had planned for and what we had booked in. This week, I think it may actually be more than that.

“Sunday was probably about 50 per cent of what we would usually take. Certainly day-to-day there’s been a huge difference, with a lot of bookings not turning up and little to no passing trade.

“We had 320 booked in for Christmas Day. We’ve lost between 40 and 50 of those, but we’ve recovered about 20 to 25 with people who are now starting to phone and re-book.

“Closing the Forth Road Bridge is not far off being an act of God. There’s not many things that would have that impact.

“We’ve got the hotel as well, and there’s definitely a noticeable difference there. We’ve been pretty much fully booked for months, and then this last week it’s tailed off a bit.

“Every time the phone rings, you’re wondering if it’s someone going to cancel. I just feel that there’s a lack of communication and clarity. We’ve got guests phoning us and asking how they can get to us.”

Yesterday the streets of South Queensferry were eerily quiet when the Evening News visited.

John Sinclair, owner of Craigie’s Farm deli and cafe, said his takings had dropped by 20 per cent over the weekend – robbing him of around £3000 in potential income.

But he insisted he was more worried about the impact on his staff, adding: “We have six to eight members of staff that come across from Dunfermline and they are starting to get really annoyed. I think if this closure goes on much longer than the New Year, we’ll lose them.

“I’m a farmer, and we would not be allowed to treat livestock the way they are treating people on the trains.”

Caley Morrison, manager of Maisie’s gift shop on the High Street, added: “The weather has been horrendous down here, so that hasn’t helped. But since the bridge closed it definitely has made a difference. Especially at the end of the day, it’s like a ghost town down here. I can’t see it getting better unless they put more public transport on – or open the bridge.”

The decision to close the busy crossing was made at midnight on Friday, after engineers spotted a 20mm-wide crack in a steel truss under the southbound carriageway.

Officials say the 51-year-old structure is not expected to reopen until early January, prompting business experts to warn of wide-ranging ramifications for Edinburgh’s economy at a time when shops would usually be gearing up for the festive rush.

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A financial dent to Scotland of around £50 million has been predicted using figures previously calculated for a year-long closure in 2008 – with fears much of this could hit Edinburgh and surrounding areas.

Yesterday commuters faced delays as they diverted via Kincardine and Clackmannanshire bridges, with congestion at Gartarry, Kilbaggie, Higgins Neuk and Kier roundabouts, the coast road through Culross and on the A9 at Broxden.

Transport Minister Derek Mackay urged more people to use the extra 33 buses that have been laid on amid reports of passengers being turned away from packed early morning trains.

He said the “key thing” is to get the bridge open as quickly as possible, adding: “We are working around the clock to do that and the government has taken the right decision in the bridge closure so that the investigation, the preparation and the repair work can be carried out, and I believe that we have averted a much more serious structural incident which, I think, would have been more damaging to the economy in the area if that had occurred.”

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com