‘Save our market’ petition calls for vote of no confidence in council following ongoing controversy
- Credit: Archant
A “save our market” petition has called for a vote of no confidence in a Norfolk town council following months of controversy over the running of its market during the coronavirus crisis.
Downham Market Town Council (DMTC) came under criticism for its delayed approach in reopening in June and its reduced number of traders and socially distanced measures at the time, which included barriers and strict queuing.
Tensions have since developed between traders and the council, which has been accused of trying to close the market - something the authority has denied.
The latest in the ongoing controversy is a “save our market” campaign which calls for a vote of no confidence in the council.
The group, who have set up a Facebook group which has gathered 1,400 members, requests that councillors consider their positions after feeling the management of the town and market have been “insufficient and unreasonable for several months,” adding safety measures in place has had a damaging effect on the livelihoods of traders and local businesses.
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But Downham Market councillors, in a personal statement not reflective of the full town council, hit back at the “campaign of relentless negativity” which they said is “unnecessary“ and is damaging the town’s reputation.
Colin Bulley, Cissy Lightfoot, Jo Woodmin, Jacqueline Westrop, Alan Pickering, Ben Molyneux Hetherington, Willow Woodmin and Elizabeth Hendry said: “DMTC have never said they want to close the market, and are committed to expanding the market.
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“They have previously discussed the potential of increasing the market in High Street South and holding craft, farmers markets and other specialist markets.”
The group claimed a town councillor who is leading the campaign has recently been “warned about his behaviour and bullying of members of staff” and they have sight of an email in which he “incited others to discredit fellow named town councillors.”
They added: “He is also a member of the car park committee, he knows that it has never been the intention of the council to use the Town Hall Car Park as a means to gather revenue on a Friday or Saturday.
“None of the points that he has raised within the various social media groups have been raised at full council, other than the now disproven point regarding the validity of the town council meetings.
“As such, he is undermining the council that he claims to represent. Private meetings are being held with no input from the town council who own the rights to run the market.”
But those behind the campaign have said it was created for “positive change” after feeling the voices of the traders were being ignored.
Around 2,000 people have signed the petition, which has been placed in around 70 businesses in the local area.
Mariah Carey Moyses, speaking on behalf of the market traders, said: “We’ve had an enormous amount of signatures for change. Hopefully the council will come to terms with the voices of the people and work with us.”
“We really want to be listened to and want our suggestions to be considered and not brushed under the carpet.
“Traders have been here for years and know what they’re doing.
“We want stability. People are disheartened, especially at a time like this. I think they’re disappointed and that shows in the way people have come together to change things.
“In a historic town what is there to come to if there’s no market?”
She added: “The situation is not personal, it’s more a case of logistics, business and livelihoods at stake.
“None of us wanted to be in this situation. But this is the last fight.
“In response to councillors in distress, I’d say what about the pressure on market traders not knowing what money they’ll bring in each weekend and the stress traders feel, it’s enough to make people mentally and physically ill.”
The group said it wants to get the market reinstated to the way it was run before which includes having all the traders back.
Jen Goodbody, a Downham Market trader of 17 years, said: “We’re in a horrible situation and it’s totally unnecessary.
“A few months back when this started other councils were encouraging traders back and here we were not allowed to reopen, that’s when the frustration all started.
“This time last year the market was working but something has fundamentally changed but it isn’t because of Covid, this was happening before then.”
But in their statement, councillors who spoke as members of the public, wanted to address complaints and “misinformation” which they said needs to stop.
They added: “One of their complaints has been that the DMTC meetings have been unlawful. This has been found to be untrue by the Monitoring Officer at the Borough Council. It would be appropriate if an apology was made for the misinformation.
“The protest group have also bemoaned the use of Covid rangers by DMTC. As announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, it would also seem that DMTC were once again ahead of the game.
“The campaign of relentless negativity by this group is damaging the reputation of the town, and is the key factor in ruining the livelihood of traders and local business owners.
“Sadly, such a campaign also deprives the residents of Downham of the very market that they love.
“We believe passionately in the future of our market.”