Changes proposed to King’s Lynn Mart - but what do you think..?

Plans to axe the traditional Valentine's Day opening of the King's Lynn Mart and reduce the amount of days it operates in the town moved a step closer last night.

The traditional funfair, which comes to Lynn for two weeks each February, has been under the spotlight since three-year-old Rio Bell died when he was in an accident with a car at the junction of King Street and the Tuesday Market Place.

Last night West Norfolk council's regeneration, environment and community panel gave its approval to a series of changes proposed by the Mart Task Group.

The raft of changes, which will now be put before the council's cabinet, include the fair being held in town for little more than a week, a temporary pedestrian crossing set up, marshals employed and barriers put up to prevent pedestrians mixing with traffic using the Tuesday Market Place.

Campaigners had called for the junction of King Street and the Tuesday Market Place to be closed for the fair, but that has been deemed impractical.

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A campaign group secured more than 5,000 signatures calling for King Street to be closed while the Mart was in town after the death of Rio, of Lowestoft, just days after this year's event opened, but the option of closure was not put forward.

At last night's meeting, Colin Sampson, chairman of the panel and former borough mayor, said: 'I was sat in the big chair when the petition was handed in and it was a very emotive time.

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'The report we have now has done an extremely good job. There has been no knee-jerk reactions and all parties seem to be able to live with it.'

The report says the fair should only be open for eight or nine days, but to include Sunday, instead of the usual fortnight.

It is also proposed that Ferry Street is closed to traffic while the Mart is in town and marshals employed to help people cross – paid for by the fair's operators.

The Mart is the first of the season's travelling fairs and has always opened on Valentine's Day. But this will change to the Friday before half-term from 2014 and it will close the Saturday after half-term.

It would be allowed to open at 2.30pm during the day and Sunday opening is also an option for the first time next year from noon to 10pm.

Councillor David Collis spoke at last night's meeting of his concerns at the increase in costs to the travelling showmen combined with the reduction of hours they can trade.

But Martin Chisholm, West Norfolk Council business manager, told the panel: 'When we spoke to the Showmen's Guild it was felt that the days they have operated in the past have been more of a tradition than a necessity.

'They feel they haven't been able to take advantage of the school holiday in February with their current opening hours being 6.30pm.

'They will probably actually see a net financial gain by opening at 2.30pm during the school holiday and this could also increase the footfall for other businesses in the town.'

Mr Chisholm added the proposed changes would see the fair on site for a total of 12 days (include setting up and removal) instead of the usual 20, with 67.5 hours open (77.5 if Sunday is used) as opposed to the 78 hours currently allowed.

Councillor Peter Cousins later told the meeting he would still like to see a fair in the town on Valentine's Day if the traditional opening day of the Mart was axed.

'The charter for Valentine's Day was granted by Henry VIII in 1537 and I think it's quite feasible to run a Valentine's Day fair down the High Street and the town centre to bring people in from all over.

'How many other towns have a charter by Henry VIII for Valentine's Day? A fair would surely increase revenue for businesses and footfall in the town.'

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