A Ballyclare-based charity has warned the local council it is taking food off the table of African street children as a row erupts over roadworks in the town.
raders are furious over the closure of the main car park on Harrier Way which was cordoned off by Antrim and Newtownabbey Council on June 6 with virtually no notice given.
Reduced footfall has already seen profits in some businesses dip by as much as 50%.
Michael Holmes is the chief executive of Hope365, a charity shop that relies on donations of items including clothes and furniture.
“We chose these premises specifically because of the car park and are completely dependent on it,” he explained.
“Without car parking outside, we don’t get donations.
“And if we don’t get donations, we don’t have a shop.”
Mr Holmes said he was blindsided by the plans which he was informed about in a hand delivered letter with just one trading day’s notice.
“There was absolutely no consultation whatsoever,” he said.
“It’s completely illogical to me that they would do this all at once instead of in stages. I spoke to the contractor who agreed it’s unusual, but the council have told him to stop talking to us now. They are in cover-up mode.”
The charity founder has already seen takings and donations drop by 40% at a time he was expecting them to soar.
He praised local residents for their support during the pandemic as he warned the council risks undermining it.
“If it keeps up like this even for two weeks we will have to cut hours,” Mr Holmes said.
“This shops feeds into a second shop we have, so this puts our entire operation in jeopardy.
“Not only will that affect our employees — but it is literally taking food off the table for street kids in Ethiopia.”
According to the letter sent to traders the car park will be completely closed until phase one of the “improvement works” are finished in mid-July.
It will partially re-open until the completion of phase two in the middle of September.
The council’s deputy chief executive has been invited to speak to business owners and warned about the risk of “a mutiny” in the town.
Parents of local primary school children have also been complaining about a build up of traffic and limited drop-off space during the school-run.
Alistair Hall owns Craig’s Hardware store and Ernest Hall Menswear in the town and has seen trade slashed in half.
“Our turnover has been decimated,” he said. “On Saturday it was down 50% in both stores and I know other traders are saying the same.
“The council will argue there are other car parks — but no one is going to walk half a mile carrying a bag of sand.”
The businessman claims council reps told him they were constrained by the town fair — held on May 21 — and the Royal Black Institution’s annual parade coming up in August.
“They couldn’t start it before the May Fair, and they are in a rush to re-open before Black Saturday,” Mr Hall said.
“Those priorities are completely wrong.”
Councillor Norrie Ramsay said he is aware of complaints in the town and has notified the council.
“I have no further comment at this time,” he added.
In response, a council spokesperson said: “A letter was issued to traders and residents on 1 June 2022, stating that the improvement works at Harrier Way car park would commence on 6 June and last for approximately 10-12 weeks. Phase one of the works entails a full closure of the car park from 6 June until mid-July, and phase two will see a partial reopening from mid-July until early September.
“Recipients of the letter were informed that alternative free parking would be available at Market Square Car Park and Sixmile Leisure Centre.
“The Council has taken steps to proactively communicate these alternative parking arrangements, including distributing around 250 flyers to the immediate area surrounding the car park; social media posts; signage around the car park; AA road signs directing motorists to Sixmile Leisure Centre car park and pedestrian AA signs from the car park to the Town Centre.
“We are however only aware of three complainants – two traders and the local primary school. The primary school issue in relation to access to an adjacent sports ground has been facilitated. Meetings and telephone conversations have been held with the other two traders to explain the programme of works and the improved outcomes that this project will bring.
“The car park is being improved to address night time anti-social behaviour issues, improve lighting to meet current standards and provide wider parking bays to cater for today’s larger cars.”