CUSTOMERS have dried up at a Boscombe public house since a major road scheme got under way on the doorstep.

Chef Gary Walters arrives for work at the Portman Hotel contemplating another quiet shift.

“It’s dead,” he sighs.

“Friday lunchtimes are normally busy – last week I didn’t cook any meals at all.”

Business is unlikely to pick up before Christmas while Network Rail carries out a two-month scheme to rebuild Ashley Road railway bridge.

Gary said: “The signs say the road is closed so people don’t realise they can still drive into our car park. The most frustrating time is weekends when no work is carried out but the road remains closed.

“There is no passing trade now. We rely on functions and our regulars who know we are still open for business as normal.”

Landlord Steve Smith has invested £30,000 since taking over the premises a year ago.

He said: “We’ve had about four people in every day since the bridge repairs started.

“It’s terrible timing for us because the first two years are crucial for any new business.”

For hairdresser Kim Dunn, the road closure has also come at the worst possible time.

It’s mid-morning. Her Ashley Road hair and nail salon is empty and she estimates business is down by at least 40 per cent.

She said: “The run-up to Christmas is normally when I’m busiest but I’m literally hemmed in by barriers – I can’t even park outside my own shop.

“There’s no passing trade and my regulars struggle to find somewhere to park.”

Tony Nixon, owner of Burford Motor Company on Ashley Road, estimates that the two-month road closure will cost him £20,000 in lost business.

He said: “While I accept that this work is unavoidable I feel that everything should be done to minimise the impact on local businesses.

“A number of major approach roads in the area are signposted ‘Ashley Road closed’ without saying that businesses are still operating and that there is access to them.

“Work finished on the bridge on Friday between 4pm and 5pm.

“On Saturday and Sunday no work was carried out. I find that absurd.

“Between 50 and 60 per cent of our business is passing trade but many people are avoiding Boscombe like the plague.”

Mr Nixon has enlisted the help of Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood, who said he was stunned that work was not taking place at weekends.

Mr Ellwood added: “I realise there are cost implications but I will be contacting Network Rail to stress the need for this scheme to be finished as soon as possible so Boscombe can get back to normal.

“I am still astonished with the timing of this project, in the run-up to Christmas. It’s sheer madness.”

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Signage relating to the Ashley Road bridge replacement has been put up as agreed with the council.

“We have received a number of conflicting requests from the public asking for the signage to be changed.

“Mr Nixon made a request for a sign to be put up at the south end of Ashley Road. A sign is now in place.

“The work is scheduled around the availability of equipment, engineers and third-party organisations, such as utility companies, as well as the limited opportunities to close the railway for short periods to carry out the biggest parts of the job.

“Work is planned for some weekends.”