“IT’S sending out the wrong message.”

That’s the view of politicians and businessmen in Southampton after city council chiefs urged motorists to avoid part of the centre this week.

With two cruise ships due to dock in the city on Thursday, civic chiefs have urged motorists who do not need to come into the centre to avoid it altogether.

They are hoping to avoid the chaotic scenes of recent months when multiple cruise ships arrived and combined with roadworks to leave thousands of motorists gridlocked for hours.

The roadworks are part of a £20m project to widen Platform Road and Town Quay into a dual carriageway.

Labour council transport boss Jacqui Rayment said the council “regretted” disruption to motorists and businesses that will be caught up in the chaos, but that the authority was “doing everything in its power to alleviate the congestion”.

Council bosses say businesses would be worse-off if customers were sat in long traffic jams, and add that the impact on business will be “minimal”.

A number of measures will be implemented to keep traffic moving, such as suspending works at Town Quay eastbound, while drivers have been urged to avoid coming into the city centre from the M271 during the peak time of 11am to 2pm.

But they have been accused of “sending out the wrong message” by Cllr Rayment’s opposite number, Conservative transport spokesman Dan Fitzhenry.

He said: “Telling people not to come to Southampton because the council can’t organise the roads is not right.

“It’s not good for businesses or our reputation if the message is ‘we can’t handle it so don’t come here’.

“The situation should be better because the Itchen Bridge works are completed, but the message is wrong.”

Ian Silsbury, owner of La Esquina restaurant in Oxford Street, said: “Telling people not to come to the city is negative. If you’re going to tell people not to come, why bother having businesses?”

Clive Johnson, taxi driver and chairman of the Southampton Trade Asso-ciation, branded it “stupid”, adding: “Who comes up with these ideas, some bloke in a cobwebbed office?”

Council leader Simon Letts said: “I think business will be affected more if people sit in a traffic queue for long periods. I feel they are then much more likely not to return to the city.”