The High Court in London has granted permission for a Judicial Review over the ongoing saga of market rents in Leighton Buzzard.
Linslade activist Victoria Harvey, who previously unsuccessfully contested Central Beds Council’s decision to grant permission for the Grovebury Road Retail Park at the High Court, submitted her challenge to the new pitch fee structure back in June.
And this week she revealed that her bid to get a judge to scrutinise the ruling of town council’s Cultural and Economic Services Committee on March 12 has been successful.
Ms Harvey, who will have to pay no more than £4,000 in costs if she loses after the court granted a protective order, has insisted there was a lack of proper consultation with market traders over new “unfair” market fees.
Ms Harvey, who will represent herself in court, said: “The market is integral to the heart of Leighton Buzzard and despite the town council spending over £120,000 it is steadily growing smaller. All I want is for the town council to follow what I believe are their legal obligations to undertake a fair consultation with the market traders and to agree a new system of pitch fees that will encourage more market traders: both traditional stalls such as fruit and veg flowers clothes etc, as well as newer stalls such as gifts and street food so that the market grows and attracts more people into the town centre. This will keep the traditional market going as well as encouraging a wider variety of stalls.”
She added: “The key point to be decided by the High Court is whether the town council has a duty to consult and/or whether they actually consulted fairly with the market traders.
“I am so pleased that the High Court believes that the town council has a serious case to answer as only 30% of cases reach this stage.”
Ms Harvey said: “The wider concern about the market is that although small stalls are very reasonably priced, the larger more traditional stalls such as fruit and veg, flowers and clothes etc are very expensive compared with other markets.
“The only way that some existing stall holders can afford the fees is due to the 20% loyalty discount that they receive if they have been on Leighton Buzzard market for over 20 years, but if these traders were to retire they could not be replaced with other fruit and veg, flowers, and clothes stalls as the price would be too high for new traders to take over as new traders would not get the discount.
“This means that the traditional market stalls such as flowers/ plants, fruit and veg, clothes and cards is steadily being phased out and priced out in favour of smaller gift and speciality stalls and speciality markets like the French market. This risks the market continuing to decline and possibly ending up like Dunstable.”
Following the market’s relaunch in September 2017, 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 staggered rent increases came into effect in April, as the council began to charge for depth and not just stall frontage.
But with some traders claiming resultant rent rises would force them to quit their stalls, the council introduced a loyalty rent reduction based on length of service on the market.
They also decided that casual traders should pay £4 more per pitch than regular stallholders, and that the additional charge per square metre over and above the standard plot size should be reduced from the previously agreed £2.10 per sq metre down to 50p per sq metre.
A spokesman for Leighton-Linslade Town Council said: “The matter has been passed to the town council’s solicitor who will be responding to the courts in due course.”