Businesses in Haywards Heath have already seen a downturn in footfall since part of South Road closed for up to 18 weeks.
South East Water’s essential work to upgrade the water main which started on Monday ‘could kill the town’ according to one business owner.
Russell Stevenson, owner of R & R Stevenson Jewellers, said: “I’ve had customers tell me that they’re going to avoid Haywards Heath because of traffic congestion.
“There’s no extra parking area, no free parking, it’s not been planned well, it’s ridiculous.”
He said that so far he has been two thirds down on footfall.
“It’s having a major effect, it could kill the town,” he added.
“Church Road has been completely solid right up to the one way system. It’s going to have a real detrimental effect for people coming to the town centre, they’re not going to come to Haywards Heath.”
He also complained that work is not being completed as fast as possible.
“This is the second day the roads have been closed and no work has been done,” he explained.
“They need to get on with it, to get on with the work so the roads don’t have to be shut for this long.”
Mr Stevenson has explained his concerns in writing to Nicholas Soames, South East Water and Mid Sussex District Council, as he wishes to get business rates reduced.
The jeweller concluded: “The next four months are going to be a difficult trading time.”
Matthew Guest, manager at Forfars bakery said: “It’s started to have quite a big effect, it’s going to be a problem.”
He added that the lack of customers will have a long term effect on the business.
The baker suggested: “There should be incentives to come to the town, like free parking, something to bring people to the town or they will just go further afield.”
To keep traffic in Haywards Heath moving, a one-way system has been installed around the town centre.
Traffic travelling westbound along South Road is unaffected, but motorists travelling eastbound need to follow a diversion which is clearly signed.
Colin Buxton, partner at Baldwin’s fabric shop, said: “We’ve been affected already, the footfall is down quite a bit.
“I was listening to the radio and that wasn’t very helpful, they make it seem as if Haywards Heath is a no go area, which it’s not.”
All businesses are open as usual in Haywards Heath.
“We would encourage people to come because there isn’t a problem,” Mr Buxton continued.
“They brought everything to work with here yesterday but nothing seems to be happening yet.”
The work is essential as the water main has burst six times in the last five years.
Philip Lisney, assistant manager at Middletons butchers, said: “The effect on the high street is going to be terrible.
“It takes three quarters of an hour to get in and three quarters of an hour to get out, it’s always just one big funfair with the roads, they’re always closed, it causes chaos.”
He also said that work is not being completed fast enough.
“They didn’t do a lot yesterday,” he explained.
South East Water responded to concerns about the lack of activity in the fenced off part of South Road.
Chris Love, South East Water delivery manager, said: “The first day of work involves setting the working area, ensuring that the contractor, members of the public and motorists will be safe while we work and that all the equipment required to install this new water main is brought to site.
“Today our contractor has been marking out the locations of the other utility services within the road to ensure everyone working on site is aware of their locations. We have also begun excavating the road to dig down on to the old water main.
“Once we have reached the old pipe, over the coming days we will be able to dig a section of trench and install the first section of water main, carryout a series of tests and once those tests are complete, connect nearby properties up to the new pipeline. Construction will then move easterly along South Road so the next section of pipeline can be installed.”
The £600,000 project should be completed by September 30.
Later in the year the company will also be upgrading sections of pipeline in Hazelgrove Road and Oathall Road.
Further information can be found at www.southeastwater.co.uk/lindfieldandhaywardsheath