Call for council and traders to find resolution to ensure future of market
- Credit: Archant
Since lockdown eased, towns have put in place measures to keep people safe. But in Downham Market, they have created controversy among traders and the public. Sarah Hussain reports.
As its name would suggest, the town centre market plays an integral part in life in Downham Market.
It’s not just where people, over many hundreds of years, have gone for their shopping. It’s where they’ve socialised, caught up with friends, enjoyed a relaxing cup of tea and, more often than not, caught up with the town’s gossip.
However, in recent months much of that talk has focused on the market itself, as question marks circle over how it best operates in a post-lockdown world.
Now, its MP has called on the town council and traders to find a resolution.
The row rumbles all the way back to Friday, June 5, when Downham Market Town Council reopened its market with a reduced number of traders and under socially distanced measures, which included barriers and strict queuing.
At the time, the authority was criticised for its delayed approach in reopening and tensions have since developed between traders and the council, who has been accused of trying to shut the market down - something the authority has repeatedly denied.
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Business owners have also claimed safety measures are adversely affecting the town. These concerns were expressed to South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who has urged the council to find a resolution.
On Monday, a meeting was held by Ms Truss with traders, businesses and West Norfolk borough councillors, where complaints over the town council’s new licence for traders surfaced.
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It came after Downham Market town councillors voted in favour of revoking the current market byelaws and adopting new regulations at an extraordinary meeting this week.
Mayor Becky Hayes said the council felt the current byelaws “were unfair and outdated” and changes to them would bring more benefits to the traders.
This included getting rid of a byelaw that stated traders could have their licence revoked if they missed four consecutive market days and another which resulted in traders “forfeiting their right to a licence” if they did not give sufficient notice.
Mrs Hayes added: “What we wanted to do was make a licence that everybody, both old and new traders, were signing up to that made it a level playing field.
“We also wanted to encourage new traders in - the plan has always been for us to extend the market, to make it bigger and better.”
Ms Truss, who was present at the council meeting, said: “I think we all agree the market is incredibly important to Downham Market, it’s a key part to the town’s identity.
“While I understand the reasoning for some of the barriers, I think it’s right we look at alternatives now.”
Mrs Hayes said the council is looking to “phase out” Covid-19 rangers, who are currently being used to check on social distancing and suggested replacing barriers with planters.
Councillor David Sharman said there was nothing in the new licence to worry about.
He added: “So what’s worrying the traders? There’s something wrong somewhere because you get the atmosphere in the market that they’re not happy.
“When I sat and read the licence it all makes sense, so what’s wrong?”
A member of the public responded that no representative from the town council was present at Monday’s meeting to answer questions.
Mrs Hayes said the council was not invited to the meeting but was invited to a one-to-one with Ms Truss.
In a statement following the meeting, Ms Truss said further consultation on the new market licence needs to take place and has offered to hold a meeting with all parties.
She added: “I am concerned that at this challenging time of a global pandemic and economic crisis the town council are making changes which local traders feel will have a detrimental effect on their business and potentially on local jobs.”
A trader, who asked to stay anonymous, claimed the measures are being used to prevent people using the market.
He said: “We’re fighting for our livelihood. People are not coming out because of the barriers.”
But Catherine Ferris, Magic and Wonders stall holder, who has been on the Town Square for two weeks, says the measures show the council is being “cautious”.
She added: “Instead of saying ‘other markets don’t have these measures in place,’ I’d ask why don’t they? I think it shows that our council cares.”