TRADERS at a historic market which last year celebrated its 150th anniversary have said disruptive roadworks are driving shoppers out of their town.

The Stonebridge roundabout, on Darlington’s inner ring road, is being replaced with a light-controlled junction to improve the flow of traffic around the town centre.

Work on the £3.7m scheme began in February and is expected to take up to a year to complete.

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Motorists and pedestrians have been subject to a number of diversions and road closures while the work is carried out, which local traders believe is contributing to a decline in customer numbers.

Alex Blackham, owner of The Diner in the covered market, said there had been a steady decline in the number of people shopping in the market recently.

He said: “It was quite noticeable when the work to the ring road started.

“I know traders often look for excuses and say it is somebody else’s fault, but maybe it really is somebody else’s fault this time.

“Darlington is still an attractive place to come, as we have got businesses that are not available in other towns in the North-East.”

His thoughts were echoed by long-established covered market trader Robin Blair, who said a lack of cheap car parking near the market and the closure of the public toilets were also contributing to the decline in customers.

The Victorian market hall celebrated its 150th anniversary last June with a weekend of celebrations. However since then, a number of stallholders have closed and moved on.

Trader Samantha Blackham said: “If you think this time last year it was the 150th birthday we were so busy. Since then several traders have closed.”

Beryl Hankin, owner of Guru Boutique in Blackwellgate, urged customers not to be put off visiting Darlington because of the roadworks.

She said: “It is well worth the effort of coming here as once in town, we are very hospitable and have so much to offer.”

Council leader Bill Dixon said any loss of trade was regrettable, but that the authority had to tackle congestion in the town.

He said: “I accept that work to the ring road is disruptive but if we didn’t do it we would pay – we would have gridlock then people would complain that there is a permanent loss of trade.

“Obviously it is regrettable, but if you want to have an omelette you have got to break eggs.”

He said the authority continues to invest in the covered market and would support traders in exploring new ways to secure its future.