The new chairman of Leighton Buzzard Market Traders has claimed the future of the Tuesday market is at risk from rents being proposed by the town council.
Under plans unveiled last week, stallholders would see a loyalty reduction in their rent based on the length of service on the market.
The town council is also looking for casual traders to pay £4 more per pitch when compared to a permanent trader, and wants to amend the additional charge per square metre over and above the standard plot size to 50p per sq metre, not £2.10 per sq metre as originally proposed.
With Karen Young stepping down on Thursday as chairman of the Leighton Buzzard Market Traders, Dave Gibbins, who runs the card stall, has taken over as spokesman and insists the new proposed rents are still unfair.
He said that after trying to negotiate fair rent deals for all traders since the market relaunch in September, the town council had suddenly come up with a proposal for a new rent structure at a meeting with trader representatives on Tuesday.
Mr Gibbins, walked out of the meeting in disgust, and claimed he had been told the new rent proposals would happen regardless of traders’ overall views. He said there was also no time to consult businesses on the changes.
On Friday an emergency meeting took place between the council, Mr Gibbins and other traders. He said at this meeting they were asked to put forward a proposal for the five traders who supply and erect their own stalls, who, as it stands, would be paying the same rent tariff as those traders who have gazebos supplied and erected for them.
Mr Gibbins, whose rent is set to go up 97% under the new pricing structure as it stands, said: “I was given just one day by the town council officers to come up with a proposal.
“I just hope that this proposal has been forwarded to the relevant council committees and not just pushed to one side and most importantly that we are allowed enough time to properly consult all our members.
“I am very concerned about the town council’s long term plans for the market as they seem to be making it very difficult for certain market traders to continue.
“We are being told to accept these new unfair rents or we will have to accept the original planned rent rises.
“Either way several traders will not be able to afford the new rents and so will have to leave and the new unfair rent structure proposed by officers will put off new traders .
“This could really risk the future of the Tuesday market that has been going for hundreds of years and local people have shown their support through a petition of over 2,000 signatures as well as filling in detailed surveys.”
Mr Gibbins said suggestions that a loyalty reward for stallholders who trade on both Tuesday and Saturday, and a discount to larger stalls who use more than one gazebo, had been dismissed by the council.
He said those on bigger stalls were facing “extortionate” rent rises.
He added: “At every meeting that I have attended the word parity is used a lot of times by the council. Where is the parity in this new proposal if one trader gets a discounted rent of 5% while another gets 20% and some get nothing at all.
“I was told via email on 7th September 2017 that all grandfather’s rights would cease from 23rd September 2017 being the relaunch date.
“Surely, if you are being rewarded for the time you have traded on LB market then this at the end of the day is grandfather’s rights and this is not fair to all.
“I believe a fairer way to achieve parity would surely to make loyalty achievable for all.”
The town council say the changes suggested would be discussed at a committee meeting on March 12.
He said: “Having carefully considered concerns raised by the market traders, we are proposing change that recognises long service as well as trader commitment. We are continuing to liaise with the trader representatives over these proposals and are pleased to continue a dialogue with them.”
“Market rents have remained unchanged since 2012 when the town council took over the running of the market despite increasing fixed costs over which the town council has no control.
“62% of our traders will benefit from a reduced fee in recognition of their long-term service to the market whilst 24% will see their rent rise by no more than £7. When compared to other markets, our rents remain extremely competitive.”