TRADERS fear shoppers and visitors will stay away from Romsey while a major road into the town is closed for three months to allow a rail bridge to be rebuilt.

Ashfield Bridge, on the A27 south of the town, is being upgraded by Network Rail to allow larger freight containers from Southampton Docks to travel underneath it.

The work is due to start in September, after the Romsey Show and is expected to take until December.

Romsey traders say the work, which will mean closing the A27 between the Ashfield roundabout and Romsey, is likely to have a serious effect on their businesses.

Simon Troke, from Aroma, who is the chairman of Romsey Retailers, said: “I think it will have a very negative effect on the town, especially at this busy time of year for retailers in the run-up to Christmas.

“I appreciate the work has to be done, but this is very bad timing. Romsey has the potential to become a ghost town while this work is going on. This road is one of the main arteries into Romsey from the south.

Mr Troke added that measures should be taken to ensure people know that Romsey is open for business during all the upheaval.

“We need leaflets drops or a park and ride at Broadlands to compensate for the detour around the road closure. Businesses don’t need this, because they are going through tough times as it is,” remarked Mr Troke.

A former Romsey mayor and hairdresser, John Ray, also expressed his concerns about the road closures. Mr Ray said: “I am worried about the effect on trade. People won’t come into town if they have to go miles out of their way to get here.”

Hampshire County Council’s deputy leader, Roy Perry, whose Romsey Extra division includes the bridge, said everything possible would be done to minimise disruption.

Mr Perry said: “In principle, this is a good move to get more commercial goods on to the rails, but it is likely to have a significant impact on traffic in the Romsey area while the work is being done. I am also concerned about the visual appearances the changes might have on the bridges. I want to see the character of the bridges maintained wherever possible.”

Network Rail’s Wessex route managing-director, Richard O’Brien, said that once the upgrade was complete, 9ft 6ins- high cube freight containers would be able to use the lines around Romsey.

“It is important that the food, clothing, electronics and other consumer goods which arrive in Southampton in containers can make their onward journeys by rail at all times to stock shops around the country,” he said.

The work at Ashfield is part of a £60 million project which includes raising the height of rail bridges over Old Salisbury Lane bridge at Awbridge and Lee Drove bridge at Lee.

Part of Old Salisbury Lane (B3084) at Awbridge will be closed during the work. And train passengers face disruption to services in the Romsey area every weekend between October and April, 2012.

Station canopies at Romsey, Andover and Whitchurch will be altered to accommodate the increased height of freight train containers.

Network Rail says the work, which will enable larger freight trains to use the Southampton to Salisbury branch line when the mainline between Southampton and West Midlands is closed for track maintenance, will remove 50,000 container lorries a year from the roads, ease traffic jams and will lead to a quicker, greener and cheaper way of transporting goods around Britain.