The council had decided on Thursday that food sellers would be permitted to trade on Saturday (March 28) with social distancing measures in place as the coronavirus crisis continues.
It stated that it was “responding to the demands of our community for food” in allowing a food-only market to operate on Saturdays and Tuesdays, adding the decision was in line with Government guidance which says food markets can continue.
It said at the time: “As market operator, the town council is taking a calculated risk that both market traders and customers alike will abide by the social distancing rules as laid out by Government. To support all the traders during the crisis, all pitch fees have been waived.”
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But today, following a public backlash to its decision to allow Saturday to go ahead, the council announced there had been a rethink.
It said: “Having given the matter careful consideration, the town council has decided that it is not in the public interest to continue with the market function at this time. Whilst we recognise and value the contribution that the market provides, the health, safety and well-being of everyone is the priority at this time of national crisis.
“Markets have a place within our social fabric but sadly now is not that time. Our collective responsibility is saving lives by way of social distancing. There were a total of seven market traders on Saturday. Saturday was less busy when compared to a traditional market day with fewer people in town.
“The public did act responsibly in terms of trying to maintain social distancing. However, as with any public space, this wasn’t always possible and hence one of the main reasons why we have decided to desist from holding future markets.
“Decisions are made by way of ‘virtual consensus’ (email) between members. The market and its importance to the community isn’t lost and naturally there was considered debate.
“However, it was accepted that social distancing is our collective responsibility and reluctantly the market has now been closed.”
Saturday’s market ran from 8am - 2pm, but solely for food traders with fruit & veg, fish, bread, and cheese and olives on offer. In order to minimise the risk of spreading the virus, traders were spaced 10 metres apart.
Members of the Leighton-Linslade Covid-19 task force group and the police also assisted with social distancing measures. Traders observed two metre social distancing, and asked customers to do the same, taking cashless payments where possible and taking extra hygiene precautions when preparing and serving.
After the LBO revealed online last week that Saturday’s limited market was going ahead, reaction was divided. Some praised the council for organising appropriate measures and taking pressure off local supermarkets, while others described the move “scandalous” and “stupid”.
Town and Central Beds councillor Amanda Dodwell revealed she had been against the decision, writing on the LBO Facebook page that it was an “unnecessary risk”. She said: “Whilst there is some logic to the argument that there is little or no difference between the market and supermarkets opening, and it could indeed be argued that the market is less of a risk as it is in the fresh air, it can equally be argued that ideally the supermarkets would be closed, so opening the market just compounds the situation. Two wrongs don’t make a right!
“I have to say that I do not agree with the view of the LLTC Market Sub-Committee to allow the market to go ahead. I would add that this was not the unanimous view of that committee, and does not have the unanimous support of the council as a whole; I know many of my colleagues do not support this decision.
“I believe this is an unnecessary risk to the public, and the policing of the market by both Bedfordshire Police and volunteers will only add to the risk they are exposed to.
“At this difficult time, we need to discourage anyone from visiting the town centre, and to make it as safe as possible for those that have no choice – for example, to visit a pharmacy.
“I have the upmost sympathy for the market traders at this time, as I do for any business or self-employed person. And although the measures announced by the Government to support the self-employed may not be perfect, they do offer the market traders a safety net that will hopefully allow them to return to the town when this crisis is over.”
But fellow councillor Victoria Harvey, who attended on Saturday, posted: “The police were there and were happy with the organisation. The stalls were spaced out with cones between them. People queued at two metre distances and when actually at the stall shopped with a two metre distance.
“The question and risk assessment in my eyes is that shopping for food at a market stall with a two metre distance between each person was safer than when in the aisles of a supermarket you are often passed at at one metre not two metres.”
Last Monday night, PM Boris Johnson said people could only leave their homes for one of four reasons: shopping for basic necessities; one form of exercise per day; any medical need or to care for a vulnerable person; or for travel to work if absolutely necessary.
Did you visit the market on Saturday? Did it work well? Has the right decision now been made? Have you had difficulty getting fresh food from the supermarkets? Email [email protected] with your experiences.