TRAFFIC chaos is set to hit Shepherd's Bush Green within weeks and could last for more than a year after gas engineers refused to delay a major project so it can run alongside other work.
National Grid workers will start digging up roads around the busy one-way system at the start of June - six months before Hammersmith and Fulham Council is due to launch its own major regeneration project.
Concerns over a possible explosion due to leaks from cast iron pipes mean the work cannot be postponed, according to the engineers.
But the North London Gas Alliance scheme is part of a national programme to update old pipes, and has not been planned as a result of any specific concerns.
It will take at least six months to complete and will require lane closures and restrictions around the Green and on Goldhawk Road, Uxbridge Road and Shepherd's Bush Road.
Traders nearby fear the lengthy works may worsen the impact of the recession, with many already worried for the future of their businesses.
James Horada, chairman of the Shepherd's Bush Market Tenants' Association, said: "There's going to be this commotion around the Green, and there always seems to be one thing or another. We're all trying to hold it together and pull through 2009, and we need every bit of help we can get. A lot of businesses are just holding on by a thread."
Updating the gas supply with plastic pipes is essential, according to the Health and Safety Executive, but the urgency of the scheme is being challenged by the council.
Environment leader Nicholas Botterill said: "I am concerned that it may not be possible to delay these disruptive works until next year when the refurbishment of the Green starts.
"We have been assured that access to shops, businesses and homes will be maintained as usual. We are still not entirely clear why these works have to take place now and have written to the NLGA to express our concerns in the strongest possible terms."
He said the council has lobbied the gas company to work seven days a week, from 8am to 8pm when possible, and with no noisy work after 6pm.
Patrick Nathan, NLGA construction operations engineer, said: "This work is essential to improve gas supplies to local homes and businesses."