Talks at an early stage on 'complex' challenge of how to safely reopen Leighton Buzzard's food market

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Discussions are at an early stage on the possible reopening of Leighton Buzzard's food market which was closed down in March due to the coronavirus crisis.

LB First, the independent traders' group, has put forward proposals to Leighton-Linslade Town Council and Central Beds Council as it says the market's survival is crucial to a thriving town centre.

The town council - which says the situation with the market is one of the most complex challenges it has faced in years - initially closed all stalls after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the pandemic lockdown on March 23.

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But days later the council said food sellers would be permitted to trade on Saturday, March 28, with social distancing measures in place. It stated that it was “responding to the demands of our community for food”, adding the decision was in line with Government guidance which says food markets can continue.

Leighton Buzzard Market on March 28 when only food stalls operated. Stalls could be set up to face the street to allow food traders to return againLeighton Buzzard Market on March 28 when only food stalls operated. Stalls could be set up to face the street to allow food traders to return again
Leighton Buzzard Market on March 28 when only food stalls operated. Stalls could be set up to face the street to allow food traders to return again

However, following a public backlash to the opening, the council announced on March 30 there had been a rethink and it was “not in the public interest” to continue to allow the market to operate on a food stall-only basis. It said: "Our collective responsibility is saving lives by way of social distancing. The public did act responsibly [on March 28] 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."

This week, Gennaro Borrelli, chairman of LB First, told the LBO: "We are currently working on getting the food market reopened and we have already put forward proposals to the town council and Central Beds Council as to how this could be done whilst putting measures in place to keep everyone safe.

"This is crucial if we want to hang on to our market and the detrimental impact it will have to the rest of the town's businesses if we don't. After all the government hasn't shut down the food markets and other local authorities are keeping theirs open, allbeit on a smaller scale."

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Mr Borrelli said the group had suggest closing the High Street to traffic on market days allowing food stalls to face into the middle of the High Street.

"This is like we do with the Christmas Festival, thus keeping the pavements free for pedestrians and people queuing up for the chemists and banks," he explained.

"The buses would go along West Street using the temporary bus stops by Mary Bassett and the British Legion. Volunteers could help using traffic cones to supervise the queue maintaining safe distancing and allowing people to access the stalls one at a time with volunteers supervising the stalls as well.

"Customers would also follow a one-way system round. Obviously this would depend on Central Beds Council granting road traffic orders and although initial feedback has been promising from them we will have to wait and see how long that will take.

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"There are other things that need to be looked at from the town council's perspective but hopefully these are small steps in the right direction. We are still only at the early stages and I'm speaking to various councillors and officers."

A town council spokesman confirmed the council had been discussing the issue with Central Beds Council.

He said: "For the reasons that we are familiar, this is possibly one of the most complex challenges the town council has faced in many years.

"Whilst we would wish to see the return of the market as soon as practicable, public health remains our primary concern.

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"However, the town council is positively working with Central Bedfordshire Council in trying to identify a suitable way of operating a limited food only market in accordance with government guidance.

"Over the coming week(s), the Government will be issuing its roadmap to business recovery that will influence any future operating model for the market.

"Once there is clarity over this, the town council as market operator will have to be satisfied that any proposed operating model complies with government guidance. This decision will rest with the elected members to the town council."

Councillors themselves have previously been divided on the issue. CBC and town councillor Victoria Harvey said the March 28 food market had worked well and was safer than visiting a local supermarket. However fellow CBC/town councillor Amanda Dodwell said she had been against the March 28 market, describing it as “unnecessary risk” and that the public should be discouraged from visiting the town centre.

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