TOWN centre traders have bemoaned a road closure which left their stores nearly deserted on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

A stage was placed in Billericay High Street on Saturday afternoon, with the road closing to traffic for the town’s Christmas lights switch-on.

But some unhappy shopkeepers believe the closure actually kept shoppers away from the town and harmed their trade.

Gary Bellefontaine, of Bellefontaines’ Jewellers, said: “It stopped people coming into the High Street.

“I just don’t think enough thought was put into what closing the High Street would actually mean for traders.

“I understand the desire to do something for the community, but the whole point of the High Street is trade, and it was a bit blinkered in not thinking about the consequences.”

The celebrations, which included live performances from bands, school choirs and dance groups, were organised by Billericay Town Council.

Jim Devlin, council chairman, believes the event was an overall success.

He said: “It did appear some of the shops were empty, but the bars and cafes were absolutely rammed.

“The weather was pretty awful, but we still had 400 to 450 people in front of the stage at the end of the afternoon.

The problem was they were not going anywhere else, so that was a negative.

“We put the stage at one end of the High Street, but it meant people didn’t venture down the other end.

“It is obviously something we will look at, but we got so much positive feedback and we feel overall it was something worth doing.”

Performances started at 2pm, with the lights being switched on at 4.30pm, but the road was closed from noon until 6pm.

Mr Devlin believes signs advising of road closures may have mistakenly given the impression town centre car parks were also closed.

He added: “The car parks were open, but I think some people got confused by the signage, which was what the highways department required to be put up.

“Whether people avoided the town centre altogether because the High Street was closed, I don’t know.

“If we want to run the event in the High Street, we have got no option but to close the road from a safety point of view.

“The alternative would be to move it off the High Street to somewhere like Sun Corner, but that