STAMFORD faces eight weeks of disruption from Monday, when major gas main work begins.
The National Grid is carrying out a £92,000 gas main replacement project and workmen will be digging up High Street to replace about 300 yards of old metal gas pipes with durable plastic ones.
The work will take place in four phases and will coincide with the Mid Lent Fair, as well as Easter break and several bank holidays
It will mean Red Lion Square will be closed for two weeks immediately after the fair has left town on April 9.
Concerned traders have warned the disruption could drive away customers during one of the busiest shopping periods of the year.
And many have been left in the dark about the timing of the work thanks to an administrative error.
Deliveries to shops will be restricted to certain times and a one-way system will be introduced in High Street.
Celia Hall, manager of Walkers book shop in High Street, said: “If they had delayed the work until a more convenient, less busy time that would be better for us.
“It shouldn’t clash with the fair or the Easter holidays. We don’t need anything else increasing congestion in the town at the moment.”
Zoe Hallam, deputy manager at Pia Jewellery, agreed, adding: “The scaffolding outside our shop had already hit business so it’s going to be tough for us.
“If I lived outside Stamford I don’t think I would want to come shopping here while the work is going on.”
Frances Russel, manager of Bon Marche, said: “The age of a lot of our customers means many of them use mobility scooters, and I think the work will discourage them from coming into the town centre.
“It’s going to affect our deliveries as well. Eventually people are just going to stop coming into Stamford.”
And Hannah Hurst, manager of Crew clothing store, added: “Easter is our busiest period, they could have timed the work a lot better.”
Traders received letters over the weekend saying that the work had been postponed, but this was an administrative error by the National Grid. Many businesses have been left confused about the impact the work will have on their trade.
Hannah Darby, co-owner of Cafe Black Cafe, said: “The mix-up is frustrating, they could have handled it better. It’s difficult for us to prepare when we don’t know what’s going on.
“They could have planned it in the winter though, when it was quieter and colder. I don’t want people digging up the street next to our outdoor seating area.”
Danielle Roberts, manager of Costa, agreed. She said: “People won’t want to sit outside if they are digging up the street, so that will affect us.”
Holly Duggan, of Temptations cafe in Red Lion Square, said: “Trade is bad enough as it is. It seems strange that they didn’t combine it with the last time they dug up the square.”
Businesses in Ironmonger Street, which will be blocked off from High Street for a period found out about the plans only by word of mouth.
Robert Pinto, owner of C3 clothes shop, said: “It’s a massive worry. It would make much more sense to do it when it is colder and there are fewer people coming to the town.
“My concern is that it’s organised right so that people who are visiting know where to go and don’t just drive straight home.”
The National Grid says work will stop on Fridays to allow the market to take place, and, where possible, workers will insert the new pipe into the old one to save on disruption.
A grid spokesman said: “We do apologise for any inconvenience caused. The work is essential and we have explained to shopkeepers what we will be doing. We are asking businesses to ignore the recent letter advising that this work had been postponed as this was issued due to an administrative error. We would like to apologise for any confusion caused by this. We will be writing to traders who received the incorrect letter confirming that the work will proceed as planned and a representative from our customer services team will be visiting the shops and businesses affected to clarify the situation.”
Stamford Chamber of Commerce said it hoped the work would be completed as quickly as possible.
President Tim Lee said: “There will be some disruption to shopkeepers and the work will almost certainly increase congestion. This is inevitable living in a place like Stamford with its narrow, winding streets, but we are lucky to live in such a beautiful town.”