The threat of stallholders quitting Leighton Buzzard market due to planned rent increases looks to have been reduced by a new pricing proposal which will recognise the loyalty of longer-serving traders.
Following the market’s relaunch in September, the town council decided to standardise pitch sizes and fees, introduce a new layout, and clamp down on businesses who have historically expanded their pitch size – but not paid for the privilege.
Those rent increases were due to come into effect in April, as the council begins to charge for depth and not just stall frontage.
But with some traders claiming resultant eye-watering rent rises of several thousands of pounds per year would force them to quit their stalls, ongoing talks since the relaunch have led to a new pricing policy being put forward by the council this week.
Under the plan, it would mean 12 out of 29 traders would actually pay less rent, while 14 would see an increase of between 1% and 97%. In all, 18 of the traders would benefit from the loyalty reduction.
At least two stallholders still face sizeable rent rises, but the council says talks with traders’ representatives are ongoing,
A town council spokesman said the changes suggested would be discussed at a meeting of the council’s Culture and Economic Committee 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.”
The new rent recommendations are:
1) As of April 1, casual traders will pay £4 more per pitch when compared to a permanent trader. The spokesman said: “The two-tier approach is not unusual amongst markets and indeed we applied this approach previously. Its reintroduction responds to trader feedback. Moreover, it rewards commitment to those permanent traders as well as encouraging those casual traders that if they become permanent, as well as the benefits of being given 4 ‘rent holidays’ per year and a regular pitch position, they too can benefit from a lower rent.”
2) The additional charge per square metre over and above the standard plot size has been reviewed and the charge should be reduced from the previously agreed £2.10 per sq metre down to 50p per sq metre.
3) To recognise long-service, a reduction in pitch fees based on length of market service. 5 years (5% discount), 10 years (10%), 15 years (15%), 20 years and above (20%).
A council spokesperson said: “The decision to endorse this will rest with the Culture and Economic Services Committee. Contextually, 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 and will continue to be so.”
Karen Young, of Turner’s Nurseries flower stall, who has been leading the campaign against rent increases, said she was pleased that traders had been listened to after months of negotiations.
She said: “It’s a pretty good proposal. Some people will be paying less because of the loyalty reduction.
“Our own rent was going to be £95 per day. We’ve done 20 years, so our increase will be minimal, up £2 so it’s £52 now.
“But we need to negotiate because some traders’ increases are still a lot of money, because as it stands we will lose them. We hope we can come to some compromise with the council. The friction has been going on for long enough.”