COMMUNITY leaders have warned that vehicles cutting through Romsey to avoid a huge 58-mile diversion could harm businesses.

The M27 is to close over the weekend of September 28 as the Romsey Road bridge replacement scheme gets underway.

With a listed diversion route taking 58 miles to complete for heavy goods vehicles, councillors say it is likely that those with local knowledge will cut through Romsey and other smaller roads to avoid the length alternative.

Now, county councillor for Romsey, Mark Cooper, has said that any thoroughfare in Romsey could harm business.

He said: "There will be a massive impact on Romsey and the surrounding area. I suspect residents will be forced to 'batten down the hatches' and stay put in their homes. What is more worrying is the potential impact on businesses in the town, especially those reliant on weekend trade."

Deputy leader and fellow Test Valley borough councillor Nick Adams-King said it was clear to anyone with local knowledge would go through other routes.

He said: "While the Highways Agency diversions are sending motorists via Salisbury and the A303, it's clear to me anyone with local knowledge, or using Sat Nav diverts, will use the alternative routes across southern Test Valley.

"Local routes are therefore likely to be extremely busy. We are therefore recommending Test Valley residents plan ahead if they are travelling, even locally, on those weekends.

"We're reinforcing this on social media throughout the run up to each of the weekends."

The diversion is currently listed as far as Andover, the A303, out to Salisbury and back round to Southampton.

The bridge scheme, which totals £19m from start to finish, will see the closure also in place for two further weekends until the project is completed in October next year.

Highways England route sponsor John Henderson said: "Our work to replace the Romsey Road bridge is a vital part of our work to ensure that the bridges on England's major roads remain operating safely and reliably for the millions of people who depend on them every day.

"This is the best, safest way to complete the work and minimise overall disruption. Completing these key phases of work at the weekend means that restrictions can be kept to a minimum at other, busier times and we have chosen diversions that are the most suitable for the type and volume of traffic that usually uses the M27."

Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes said that she appreciated there would be a significant disruption, and hoped HGVs adhere to the diversion listed.

She said: "We all know how important it is that these bridge works are done, they are crucial for the safety of all those using the M27 and the Romsey Road bridge. I appreciate there will be significant disruption but Highways England really are working hard to keep that to a minimum.

"I sincerely hope HGVs adhere to the lengthy diversion and do not disturb residents during the course of the coming work."