District offers 'significant investment' to end town council row

Downham Market Town Council

The police had to be called at a Downham Market Town Council meeting after members of the public began accusing the council of ruining the town's market. - Credit: Downham Market Town Council

West Norfolk Council has offered its support to help bring an end to the 'current conflict' in Downham Market.

A row between some market traders and Downham Market Town Council has continued for more than 18 months, and came to a head at a full council meeting in September, resulting in the police being called.

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 been denied by members of the council, saying they have been working to make the market "bigger and better."

Market on the Town Hall Car Park in Downham Market. Picture: Sarah Hussain

Market on the Town Hall Car Park in Downham Market. Picture: Sarah Hussain - Credit: Archant

The latest development saw two market traders have their licence revoked after they "significantly breached" their terms, the council said.

But the news came as a shock to market traders.

Ahead of a full Downham Market Town Council meeting tonight, West Norfolk Council announced its leader Stuart Dark has made an offer of support in the hopes of resolving the current issues.

Mr Dark is said to have written to the Downham Market mayor Jenny Groom with a financial commitment to "help fund expert mediation for parties within the council" and to those externally to address the conflict.

The mayor of Downham Market, Jenny Groom. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The mayor of Downham Market, Jenny Groom. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

A statement said: "Even though the borough council is an entirely separate and impartial entity from the town council, councillor Dark has made the suggestion in order to achieve a positive conclusion to the current challenges."

The offer includes 50pc of the cost of mediation following "the assistance" WNC has provided with monitoring and complaint handling, WNC said.

Most Read

Mr Dark said: “The borough council is keen to see the issues resolved with Downham Market Town Council and we are concerned about the impact that the ongoing difficulties are having in the town.

“We have been in dialogue with the town council and are keen to find a way to offer meaningful support to help to bring an end to the current situation.

“For this reason, even though the town council is separate from the borough council, we are offering to make a significant investment in professional mediation.

"I have extended this offer to the town council and we will be very happy to progress this should the councillors wish to do so."

He added he along with others would like to see an end to the situation for the "benefit of the town".

In his letter to Ms Groom, the leader of WNC said despite the ongoing involvement of a monitoring officer, he was "very concerned" that the situation is not improving and "is actually getting worse with positions both between councillors and with sections of the community seemingly becoming more entrenched and openly hostile".

He added: "This clearly cannot be for the good of Downham Market or west Norfolk.

"I do believe some form of mediation process is now required to attempt to break this harmful cycle of behaviour."

He said for that to succeed it should be delivered by an expert and for all relevant parties to agree to "engage constructively and desist from further negativity whilst it takes its course".

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter