It was a day that thousands of Southampton’s motorists and businesses had been dreading.

Three times in recent months the city’s roads have literally ground to a halt - hit by the perfect storm of thousands of cruise passengers embarking and disembarking from ships in the docks and road works near the city’s Town Quay.

Responding to severe criticism road bosses took tough action and among a raft of measures they urged motorists to stay away from the city.

The plan worked.

There was no repeat of the gridlocked that had plagued the city before and some routes normally busy on a Thursday morning seemed more like an early Sunday.

While it was an obvious relief to drivers the scheme did come at a price for some city centre businesses and opposition councillors questioned why it took four times to get it right and some restaurants have reported a loss in trade.

Labour council chiefs and highway chiefs had set out a series of measures to avert a fourth day of misery after some drivers were forced to queue for more than three hours, and some even forced to urinate on the street during the last incident in January.

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As well as widening the junction at the entrance to Dock Gate 4 and suspending works at Town Quay eastbound, council bosses also urged motorists to stay away from the area during the peak time of 11am to 2pm.

Big “avoid if possible” signs also went up along the main routes into the city earlier this week.

But despite her relief, Labour council transport boss Jacqui Rayment said: “We don’t want to be complacent.

“We have spent a huge amount of time and energy into making sure today went well.

“All of the measures, like opening up the extra lane in Queens’ Terrace, making sure the lights were changed manually and having more people at the gates, have played a role in making sure it went as well as we had hoped.”

But her opposite number, Conservative transport spokesman Dan Fitzhenry, said: “Why has it taken them this long and four attempts to get it right?“I think the reason it went well was the fact that they used what was basically a scare tactic and told people to avoid the city centre, and motorists stayed away.”

And businesses near the area told the Daily Echo they had seen less trade than expected yesterday.

Matt Wilson, manager at the White Star Tavern in nearby Oxford Street said: “We definitely didn’t see a positive impact.

“It was quieter than we would usually expect for a Thursday lunchtime.”

And Simone Cica, at nearby restaurant Scoozi, said: “It was a lovely day but we definitely didn’t have as many customers as we expected.”

Stewart Dunn, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “We support the precautions that people took to keep traffic away from the area whist those road improvements are taking place.

“They were trying to prevent the snarl-up we saw a few weeks back, but it goes without saying that there would have been a loss in businesses to those restaurants at the lower end of town.”