City centre traders fear a £3m overhaul of Preston’s Fishergate high street could send them out of business.
Shopkeepers have voiced fears the disruption caused by work to part-pedestrianise the main shopping street could send under-pressure small traders over the edge.
Council bosses admitted there would be major disruption as part would create “short-term pain”, but insisted it would bring more people into the city centre.
They unveiled the extent of the work would include removing traffic signals and ‘street clutter’, and make Fishergate a single lane to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.
Shelley Taylor, who owns boutique Retro Rehab on Cannon Street, said: “A whole year of disruption could end a lot of businesses, the danger is you are going to make these improvements and by the time they are done.
“No-one seems to have considered the impact.”
Shaun Fisher, owner of Novello on Fishergate, said parking was the major issue stopping people coming into the city.
He said: “Removing traffic lights and making it a single lane, I can only see that making the situation worse.
“The cost of parking is the big issue, any independent trader will tell you there.”
Isis jewellers owner Alan Sharp accused council bosses of coming up with a “fait au complete” without asking traders for their views before drawing up plans.
Beckie Joyce, head of strategic development at Lancashire County Council, said the authority had to move quickly to secure European cash, but said the work would create “a high quality environment.”
She admitted: “There will be disruption to the street, there is no getting away from that, and if the occupancy rates in the area fall before the work is completed we will have failed.
“We have seen similar schemes take place in similar places and the long-term benefits have always made up for the short-term pain.”
Council highways expert Shaun Capper said the work would take place in three phases with the second phase, due to start at the street’s Lune Street junction in July, would halt before the crucial Christmas trading period.
County Coun Tim Ashton, the authority’s cabinet member for transport, said he wanted to work with city centre businesses to bring benefits.
He said: “The last 10 years has seen not a lot happen in Preston and we want to invest in the city and this is a part of this investment.”
City centre restaurateur Paul Heathcote, who is also chairman of tourism body, Marketing Lancashire, said he hoped new signage planned for the area would direct visitors to the city’s “hidden gems.”
The meeting, hosted by the Preston Business Improvement District (BID) at County Hall on Thursday night, is the first of a number being held with city centre businesses.
Mr Capper said there would be further meetings with bus operators and taxi firms ahead of a detailed plan being published in March.
The project, dubbed Fishergate Central, secured a £1.3m grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and next week county council bosses are expected to vote next week to put nearly £2m of its own cash into the scheme.