Castleford Market traders declare 'no confidence' in council managers after rent row

Market traders in Castleford have signed a petition of no confidence in their council managers in a row over rent.

Tuesday, 1st September 2020, 4:45 pm
Traders say they've asked for a 50 per cent discount on their rent, introduced for a single month after lockdown, to continue.

Stall holders in the town say they want to reach a "compromise" with the local authority over monthly charges, which have now returned to 100 per cent of pre-lockdown levels.

Traders were not charged during lockdown as non-essential stalls were unable to run and they then received a 50 per cent discount for one month after they came back to business.

But a number of Castleford marketeers say their future prospects are bleak without further help, citing low footfall in the town centre and poor sales as a result.

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The petition was signed by traders in Castleford's market hall as well as those doing business on the street outside.

It's claimed that a majority of those who operate at the town's indoor and outdoor markets, as well some traders in Pontefract, signed the no confidence motion, which has been handed into local councillor Richard Forster.

In response, Wakefield Council said a "small number" of traders had written to them expressing concerns but they claimed the "vast majority" were happy with the help they'd been given. They said that £500,000 worth of cash had been devoted to support packages since March.

Sweet seller Paul Towler was among those who signed the petition. He has a bill for £513 worth of rent to cover this month.

He said: "It's double my mortgage. I'm only just making enough to cover that. You certainly can't save the way you used to.

Traders say footfall is down in the town centre and they need help to survive. The council said the "vast majority" of stall holders were happy with the support they'd offered.

"I've been here 22 years and it's very rare I miss a day.

"Some days are better than others but trade is down.

"Even 10 years ago it was busy and people were packed in like sardines down here, but it's just not like that anymore."

Simon Barker said there was a perception among traders that the council was not listening to them.

He added: "There's more office managers than there are traders some days and that's just not viable going forward.

"All the shops round here will say they're completely dead without the markets. There's no atmosphere when it's not on. Without the market I do think the town centre will die."

Another long-serving trader, Shaun Ratcliffe, who sells bread and confectionery, said: "I think the general feeling is the council think they've done us a favour, whereas we feel they haven't done anything for us.

"It's very frustrating. If it carries on as it is, then I think the market will close."

A number of stall holders pointed to discounts still being offered to marketeers in Barnsley and Rotherham by way of argument.

Some traders suggested sales had been strong in their first week back in business in June, but had tailed off drastically after face coverings were made mandatory in shops.

They also confirmed the council had offered them the chance to defer rent payments for six months, but that doing this risked creating a problem after Christmas, when markets are generally at their quietest.

Inside the market hall, opinion on the petition appears to be more mixed.

Khalid Mahmood said: "It's very hard at the moment. Everyone is struggling. You can't blame the customers of course, but if we can't pay rent this will all be empty."

However, fellow trader Liah Sullivan said: "To be honest, I don't think we've had a bad deal.

"Some people who've had private landlords have to had to shut down because they've still been charged.

"I think the council have been as fair as they can. We've got to just get back to work now for our customers. We've not been badly done to really."

Julie Russell, service director for culture and leisure at Wakefield Council said: "Despite the huge financial challenges the council is facing as a result of Covid-19, we are determined to support the traders as much as we can.

"We very much value all our markets and the traders, which is why we introduced a package of measures to try and help them, which included four months of free rent and charges and a further month at half rent.

“We been working very closely with market traders and whilst a small number of traders have written to us expressing some concerns, the vast majority of traders have responded very positively to the £500,000 package of measures that we are delivering to support our markets and the communities they serve.

“Since March we have also helped traders to access £1.15m of government grants to support their businesses, with advice on how to reopen their businesses and adhere to national guidance and social distancing measures, to keep themselves and their customers safe.

"The support is continuing. We have reintroduced rents - but our charging structure has been revised to enhance opportunities for new traders to join the markets and for existing traders wishing to extend their businesses."

Local Democracy Reporting Service