Countdown to eviction for stallholders

A bitter row which could see traders booted off a Lowestoft market showed no signs of a peaceful end last night as their eviction date loomed large. Half a dozen stallholders, who are responsible for more than 20 pitches at the Britten Centre Market, off London Road North, have until Tuesday to sign controversial new leases set out by their landlords Waveney District Council.

A bitter row which could see traders booted off a Lowestoft market showed no signs of a peaceful end last night as their eviction date loomed large.

Half a dozen stallholders, who are responsible for more than 20 pitches at the Britten Centre Market, off London Road North, have until Tuesday to sign controversial new leases set out by their landlords Waveney District Council.

MP Bob Blizzard has stepped into the fray to act as mediator, but has been unable to get both sides to the table to thrash out their differences.

Last night, Waveney District Council relented slightly when it offered to meet traders, but only on an individual basis and on the understanding that the terms of the lease could not be negotiated.

Steve Ardley, the council's portfolio holder for operations and facilities, said: "The bottom line is that we have agreed to meet them on an individual basis, together with their legal representatives.

"They can come to us to either sign the lease or put their reasons for not signing. Negotiations are finished."

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The council's stance has not impressed the stallholders, who have collected hundreds of shoppers' signatures on a petition backing their case.

Traders' spokesman Clive Marshall said: "We want to discuss our concerns about the new leases with the council, but they refuse to talk to us. They are willing to meet us on a one-to-one basis, but say they will not discuss the leases."

The row centres on the terms and conditions set down in the new leases, such as two-year contracts without automatic rights to renewal, a requirement for traders to fund repairs and maintenance to their stalls, and having to pay rent on a monthly rather than daily basis.

The district council says the new lease was proposed more than two years ago to provide better and more secure management structures. It tied in with a £100,000 investment in the site.

However, stallholders, who will trade for the last time tomorrow unless a last ditch resolution is found, fear they could face eviction after their two-year contracts are up and are also angry at having to pay for repairs and maintenance. Two colleagues have signed the leases.

Waveney MP Mr Blizzard said: "I have tried to get both sides to

come to the negotiating table so that grievances could be aired and a compromise reached. I feel very sad the council is taking this attitude."