Compromise over market move, but ‘deflated’ traders remain angry at pitch sizes and rents

Market traders unhappy about the planned changes in Leighton Buzzard
Market traders unhappy about the planned changes in Leighton Buzzard

Some ‘deflated’ traders on Leighton Buzzard market are still threatening to quit, despite a town council compromise over its revamp plans.

A second lengthy meeting between stallholders, councillors and council officers took place on Tuesday evening - but failed to satisfy campaigners who remain angry, despite negotiating a concession that fresh food stalls will not now be moved with all other traders to the north side of the High Street.

Leighton Buzzard Market Supporters (LBMS) with their petition calling for the town council to rethink plans to put all stalls on one side of the High Street

Leighton Buzzard Market Supporters (LBMS) with their petition calling for the town council to rethink plans to put all stalls on one side of the High Street

Trader such as Paul Harris (fruit and veg) and Paul Hopwood (fish) had claimed it would be impossible to operate from the sunnier side of the street and they would be forced to leave.

But while that issue has been addressed, changes to more uniformed pitch sizes (no business can have more than three 3mx3m pitches) and pitch fees remain a cause for concern for traders as the council looks for improvements following a consultant’s report which said the current market layout looks loose, untidy and has no critical mass.

A total of 2,045 people signed a petition calling for the layout of the market to stay the same with no pitch size changes.

Karen Young, of Turner’s Nurseries flower stall, situated outside Rosehill Pharmacy, attended Tuesday’s meeting at the Pantry cafe, but said the meeting had “gone around in circles”.

She said: “The fish, cheese and fruit/veg can stay on their side. That is a positive. I think the council felt if they did compromise a litle bit we might back down [on the other issues]. Three other traders on the south side have still got to move over, but they don’t want to.”

Karen said there had been no change to the new uniform pitch ruling. “Dave on cards has got a 25ft depth. His pitch size will be split in half in theory.”

She added that long-standing traders would be hit by the regularised pitch fees as many had negotiated their own price many years ago.

She also conceded that traders had unofficially expanded to larger than agreed pitch size and historically not paid extra for this.

But she said: “A lot of regular traders will end up paying more. More money for less space. This will put people out of business. We are passionate about our business, that’s why we have been here so long.

“No-one can afford more rent because business is not going to be there and it is just going to mess the market up. It there was a queue of traders wanting to get on the market, then fine. All the hardcore traders will be charged more. They aren’t listening.”

On Saturday, the council will be showing traders a sample of the new gazebos so they can decide if they want one. She said: “If people prefer they can keep their own stall but only if it fits within the 3x3 criteria.”

Leighton-Linslade Town Council took over the running of the market from Central Beds Council in 2012 and say the changes lined up for mid-August have been well researched and are being introduced to tackle decline.

The Retail Group was commissioned by the council at a cost of £12,000 – from a market relaunch budget of £113,000 – to analyse the current set-up and provide recommendations.

In their report, The Retail Group stated the market was presenting an “underwhelming customer experience” and not acting as the anchor it could be for the town.

It said having stalls split on both sides of the High Street had reduced the customer experience, and said 70% of traders were using traditional steel frames and tarpaulin and that more gazebos and branded canopies should be used.

Leighton-Linslade Town Council has been approached for further comment following last night’s meeting...

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