Market traders battle to keep pitches

Stallholders at a Lowestoft market are set to be thrown off their pitches after they refused to sign new leases drawn up by council bosses.Five traders at the Britten Centre, in London Road North, have been served eviction notices as an increasingly bitter battle with their landlord comes to a head.

Stallholders at a Lowestoft market are set to be thrown off their pitches after they refused to sign new leases drawn up by council bosses.

Five traders at the Britten Centre, in London Road North, have been served eviction notices as an increasingly bitter battle with their landlord comes to a head.

The rebel stallholders are unhappy at elements of the new leases issued by Waveney District Council and, unless a last minute resolution is found, will trade for the last time on Saturday.

Last night, neither side was showing any sign of backing down in the row, which centres on new terms and conditions 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.

Traders' spokesman Clive Marshall, who has run a fruit and veg stall since the Britten Centre opened 20 years ago, said: “We are just fighting for our livelihoods and we're sticking to out guns because the council is using bully boy tactics.

“We are not opposed to the lease; just one or two items in it. They have offered us two-year leases with no option to continue after this, so if our faces don't fit, then we're off. We have now also got to be responsible for repairs to the stalls, but they are not our stalls, they are Waveney's. We have been trying to contact the council to have discussions with them, but they will not talk to us.”

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The traders are responsible for more than 20 stalls and so far only two colleagues have signed the new leases. Those in dispute with the council have employed the services of a solicitor to fight their case and have also been seeking support from shoppers in the form of a petition.

A spokesman for Waveney District Council said the new leases were proposed more than two years ago to comply with the terms of its own lease by providing better structures for the management of the market.

He said: “The traders were aware of this, which also tied in to a £100,000 investment in the market. This agreement will give the traders greater security of tenure and allow them to trade an additional day, free of charge.”

He added that the council would need “very good reasons” to terminate contracts at the end of the period. He also stressed that monthly rent payments allowed for more effective management of the market and that individual responsibility for repairs would help maintain the upkeep of the site.

Steve Ardley, the council's portfolio holder for operations and facilities, said: “We have been talking to the traders for the past two years and we have bent over backwards for these guys.

“We have been so fair to them during the past two years, but it's come to the point where they are stalling for time and we are essentially now drawing a line in the sand and saying sign up or move on. They can't have their cake and eat it.

“Being hostile is doing them no favours. They have started up a petition, but we don't know what they are telling the public.”

Mr Ardley added that how the evictions would be enforced was still being discussed, but that there was a long list of potential new traders on the waiting list.