Councillors respond to ‘abuse’ and calls for vote of no confidence following market petition
- Credit: Archant
Councillors have responded to ‘abuse’ and a petition which called for a vote of no confidence in a town council following months of ongoing market controversy.
Downham Market Town Council (DMTC) has been criticised for the running of its market, with the authority being accused of deterring trade from the town due to its Covid safety measures and trying to close the facility down - something it has denied.
A “save our market” group was set up which created a petition asking councillors to consider their positions after feeling the management of the town and market have been “insufficient and unreasonable for several months.”
But councillors, who have issued a joint response to online criticism, said they have continually stated they are trying to “maintain, develop and expand the market”.
Ben Molyneux-Hetherington, Jacqueline Westrop, Cissy Lightfoot, Jo Woodmin, Willow Woodmin, Alan Pickering and Elizabeth Hendry addressed social media comments and concerns over the authority’s actions following the petition and full council meeting on Tuesday, September 22.
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Judith Taylor, emailed the council on behalf of the campaign group, saying the petition was signed by market traders, business owners and residents of the town to address the “failure of DMTC to protect, preserve and promote their market.”
She said it had gained more than 2,700 signatures.
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An invitation to present it to DMTC, west Norfolk councillors and Norfolk County councillors on Saturday, September 26 was turned down by DMTC due to Covid concerns, with borough councillors also unable to attend.
An ex-trader, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed the council’s Market Strategy Group (MSG) refused “point blank to speak to traders”.
He said: “I don’t know how anyone else interprets that statement, but to me, that is a clear declaration of war by DMTC on the market and its traders.
“DMTC has the intention to force an unreasonable, highly restrictive and prescriptive new licence on traders without any negotiation or consultation, which no reasonable trader is going to be able to sign up to and still make a living - end of market.
“I no longer trade at Downham because they moved me yet again last week for no reason, the licences were pushed through knowing our opposition to them with no consultation whatsoever.
“They have no intention of making any concessions.”
In a statement following the meeting, the seven councillors said the MSG met on Monday where it was considered that there was “no clear purpose” in holding a public meeting at this stage as the group have “held meetings with the traders on many previous occasions.”
They also addressed comments over why the issue was discussed in private in Tuesday’s meeting, defended the new licence and denied claims the council cut the electricity supply to the market after none of the power points on the market square were working on one day.
The statement said: “The mayor has every right under our standing orders to alter the agenda items, in fact it happens frequently.
“As this concerned staff members, it had to be dealt with in private.”
The councillors added that the new licence, which was accepted and approved by full council, is “much fairer to the traders” as previous rules such as setting up too early or late could have resulted in a £500 fine.
It added: “We are passionate about the market and the town and are committed to a zero tolerance policy on abuse of any kind towards staff, councillors, traders or customers.
“We have been described by one of the protest group leaders as ‘The Rabble’ and have received threats that the group are ‘digging the dirt’ on us in an attempt to discredit the group.
“We have broad shoulders. Our aim is to simply put out the fact that in life, there are always two sides to every story and we feel it is the right time for ours to be heard.”
In a later statement regarding the petition, they added: “We very much appreciate all the work and effort that this group has put in to confirming that the town council has well understood the wishes of the town’s residents and will continue with its often stated intention to maintain, develop and expand the market.”