Why police were called to attend a heated Norfolk council meeting
- Credit: Downham Market TC
A row between some market traders and Downham Market Town Council has continued for more than 18 month, despite both sides saying they want for it to come to an end.
The long-running dispute came to a head last Tuesday evening when police were called during angry exchanges between members of the public and councillors.
Traders are angry over the council's management of the town's market post-lockdown, with a new "draconian rulebook" and they say the market has been "devastated over the past two years."
But those accusations have repeatedly been denied by the council, which has said it has been working to make the market "bigger and better."
It stems back from anger over its delayed reopening following lockdown, its forced closure in June last year after claims of a protest ,and of Covid 'safety measures' that had been introduced, which some traders said was being used to "prevent people using the market."
South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss also weighed in, calling for the parties to find a resolution to ensure its future.
And a 'save our market' petition was set up calling on members of the council's market committee to step down.
But following a meeting, then mayor Becky Hayes said both sides had lessons to learn and would try to move forward.
Market trader Tony Leach said this was down to the council doubling rent and introducing a "draconian rulebook."
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And when mayor Jenny Groom tried to respond, a woman stormed into the room shouting for them to "shut it down."
Mr Leach, market trader of 30 years, said the scenes were a reaction to "two years of frustration" and claimed that the council refuses to talk with them.
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He said: "They've doubled the rent and brought in a new licence, and scared all the traders away.
"Last Friday or Saturday, there was about six stalls on the market. On Fridays it used to be packed to the rafters.
"Every time we try ask them a question, they just ignore it or walk away. They won't arrange meetings.
"It's almost like they want the market to die."
He said traders want the problem to be rectified, saying it was also impacting local shopkeepers.
Mr Leach said: "They brought in a new licence, with hundreds of rules governing every aspect of what your stall can look like, who you can talk to, what you can say.
"The worst thing is you're not allowed to go on social media, and to me that's infringing on people's civil liberties.
"They won't change the rule, I know a lot of traders who have left and they will all come back next week, but they can't afford the eye-watering rent.
"Unless something happens the whole town is going to die.
"We're all just worn out, the fighting is constant.
"Every single day. The council put something on Facebook, we put something on Facebook and everyone is sick to death of it.
"Everyone needs to sit around a table, talk like adults and find out how to fix the market."
He claimed the market committee was trying to turn the market into a 'craft fair.'
But Ms Groom denied the accusations and said the new rules replaced previous byelaws that were "not fit for purpose", and said consultation had taken place.
She said: "The question he [Mr Leach] asked was 'what was the town council going to do about the demise of the market?'
"Instead of asking the question, he started giving a list of the things we were doing wrong.
"For starters that we had doubled the rent, well we haven't.
"He said certain stalls had left, well some have left and some have come, and that was nothing to do with the licence."
The mayor said some traders had left to open their own shops, giving example to the cheese store on High Street.
She said as a result of the ongoing situation people have personally spoken to her about their reluctance to now shop at the market because "the atmosphere is so horrible."
She added: "We've got new traders, it's disingenuous to say we don't have new stalls."
She said around 13 stalls were present on a previous market day and a variety of stalls are available including a fruit and veg, bakery, clothing, burgers, a watch stall, a mobility transport stall, plants stall, an eco-refill stall, and beer stall.
In response to claims of increased rent, she said: "We have charged for electricity, which is £3 a week, but it's so sad we're having to defend a position that's been made up."