‘It’s very toxic in town at the moment’ - business owners concerned over market controversy
PUBLISHED: 07:30 03 August 2020 | UPDATED: 12:40 03 August 2020
Business owners have expressed their concern over their town’s market following tensions between traders and the town council.
Downham Market Town Council reopened its market again on Friday, July 10 after it was forced closed for two weeks over claims of a planned demonstration in June.
The authority has been criticised for its use of an external events company and barriers to enforce social distancing and over its dealing of the closure after traders said they were not properly informed and were unaware of a protest.
A meeting, which was described as “fruitful,” was held between both parties on Wednesday, July 1, to discuss going forward and make the market “bigger and better.”
But business owners have now said the situation is “very toxic,” claiming the council’s measures are discouraging people from coming into town and traders are frightened of expressing their views.
South west Norfolk MP Liz Truss has also been involved in discussions - she said she has raised the traders’ concerns with the council.
Jim Carlile, owner of Reeds, said: “There’s a lot of bad feeling and unrest. The stall holders seem to be in conflict with the town council who don’t seem to have a clue as to what they’re doing.
“The end product is if we’re not careful everyone will suffer.
“It’s very worrying for me. If we don’t get something done about it and my business continues to suffer because of what they’re doing then we will close this business.”
He added: “The traders are scared because their livelihoods are at risk, two of them have been warned, ‘if anything goes out on social media your licence will be terminated.’
“How’s it ever arisen to that situation? This is supposed to be a friendly market town that encourages people to visit but at the moment with the parking the way it is and the barriers up, it’s complete overkill.”
But the town council has said it “would never advocate intimidation and have not threatened traders.”
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Elaine Oliver, town clerk, said: “We are at a loss over how to respond, despite repeatedly denying accusations of shutting the market and issuing threats, we are still being ignored and bullied.
“Changes have been made to ensure we meet our duty of care to the public, staff and traders.”
John Goddard, butcher on Wales Court, claimed some traders are unhappy with the recent decision to hold stalls on the market square.
He said: “It’s the dead end of town, people don’t go into that side of the market. They want to be near the shopping centre and near the town hall car park.
“It’s totally wrong. It’ll be called Downham no market soon.”
Mr Goddard questioned the need for barriers and security after he said he witnessed an elderly lady heading towards Wales Court turn around after she was unable to get through the market.
He added: “So how many people had to do that?
“It’s causing a lot of problems, it’s very toxic in town at the moment.
“They’re making out that we don’t know what we’re doing in Downham Market.”
But Mrs Oliver said shop traders have told the council the opening of the market on both sides has increased their footfall.
She added: “We are continuing to encourage traders to the market.
“As much as we would like to see the market and life return back to the old normal we are aware that Covid is still a very real threat and we will continue to stay alert and try our best to protect the people of and the visitors to Downham Market.”
Ms Truss will be hosting a meeting with the council and traders in August to discuss the issue.
The MP said: “I do appreciate that Covid-19 has created a number of challenges, but the current unease and uncertainty amongst businesses can not continue and I will continue to work with all parties in order to secure a speedy resolution.”