A demonstration and march is taking place in Leighton Buzzard on Saturday to coincide with the town council’s relaunch of the market.
The protest, by the Leighton Buzzard Market Supporters group, urges people to join their Save Our Market campaign by meeting at the Market Cross for 10am.
The campaigners are angered by rent increases of up to £6,200 per year they claim they are facing as the council begins to charge for depth and not just stall frontage.
A number of stall holders have claimed they won’t be able to stay in business as Leighton-Linslade Town Council standardises pitch sizes and fees, introduces a new layout, and clamps down on businesses who have historically expanded their pitch size – but not paid for the privilege.
While the council says this will make matters fairer for all and increases will be staggered, long-standing traders have said they had negotiated their own price many years ago – and the resultant hike will be too great to absorb.
Upon announcing their demonstation, the group stated that the rent should only rise once the market was on the up and the footfall and trade had increased.
They claimed the town council was in chaos ahead of the launch, as with a week to go traders using new gazebos did not know if they would have tables provided, those keeping their old stalls had not had news about new awnings of a uniform colour from the council.
They said they had no map of the new layout and no letters confirming the size of the traders’ stalls, and no dummy run of the new set-up as previously promised.
However soon after the demonstration was announced, letters started dropping through some traders’ letterboxes.
Peter Elmore, who has run the shoe stall for 46 years, said he will face a 25% rent increase (an extra £441.60 a year).
He said he had received a letter from the town council on Friday.
He said: “It contained details that I can have two gazebos by Poundland, and that they will provide tables, and I’ve got to sign and return it or not be able to trade on the 23rd.
“I might sign it. I might say ‘up yours’ and miss a week, or maybe I’ll turn up with it not signed.
“In 1971 when I first started the market was down both sides of the street. There was a waiting list. Whatever was behind your stall was yours and you paid no extra for it. Now we have to pay for it and this is where you’re getting big rent increases.
“The council is not going to use this space, they are just being bloody minded. Every market in the country goes by frontage.
“We are just clinging on. No-one is making much money. Why bring all the stalls on one side and cram us all in like sardines? It’s going to cause no end of problems.
“Next weekend we’ll get there in a slightly new position and set up on the day for the first time. It might look a bit of a mess.”
Paul Hopwood, on the fish stall, said he had been embroiled in a heated row with a councillor at Saturday’s market over the market charges which had made his “blood boil”.
Yesterday he said he had still not received a council letter about his pitch adding: “On Saturday plenty of people had not had a letter. If most have not signed it and they don’t allow us to trade then it won’t be much of a relaunch. I’ve had sleeping pills from my doctor because of all the stress.
“People will work up till Christmas and then 30% will disappear. The path the council are taking, they are just going to kill it.
“Rent is not an issue for me, it’s the general health of the market. If the market goes belly up I’ll be in pretty big trouble.”
Karen Young, of Turner’s Nurseries flower stall, said she was still in negotiations with the council about her stall size.
She said on Friday: “They are offering us depth, but we personally need frontage, and we’ve been told no stall can be more than 9 metres wide (29.3ft).
“If they don’t come to a decision we will set up as normal with 50ft frontage, not 29.3ft.”
She added: “The council are forgetting that 2043 signatures were gathered to keep the market as it was and are not listening to the people that voted you in.
“It seems that the two traders myself and Dave who have been helping front the changes for the market are being punished for speaking up and not wanting their livelihoods to suffer.
“We don’t go on holidays (don’t work don’t earn.) We don’t get 25 days holiday paid. We are there through all weathers , setting up our stalls, not just going to the shop door and opening the key and all is already set up ready to go.
“At present I know of three traders that can not work with a smaller pitch . You can not expect them to bring their stock and have to leave it on the van/lorry because they can not display it. Is that fair?
“We are not trying to be difficult but LLTC has to understand that that are really messing with people’s livelihoods and a service we are offering the community.
“I understand that some stalls need tidying up, and gazebos will work for some, we really support and want to help the market grow and have a much bigger and more diverse range of stalls but the rent increases and total organisational chaos risk meaning that many existing stalls despite their popularity with the local community will have to cease trading in Leighton Buzzard.”
Last month the LBO reported how the profit of Leighton Buzzard’s market continues to plummet for the third year running with a net loss of over £22,000.
The town council, who say the current layout looks loose, untidy and with no critical mass, commissioned agents The Retail Group to carry out an analysis of the market. Their report stated it was “underwhelming”.
The report’s findings in turn led to the relaunch plan.
This also included a recommendation to move all stalls to the north side of the street.
However the council has since decided fresh food businesses can stay on the south side where they are more sheltered from the sun.
Campaigner Victoria Harvey of South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth added: “The rent increases and changes to stall size really risk losing several stalls that have been here for many years. If these stalls go when the Tuesday market is already struggling it could be the end of the Tuesday market. Dunstable Town Council brought in gazebos for their market and it is now only 3 stalls.
“Of course we all want new awnings and covers for the market and a much more diverse range of stalls as well as the existing stalls, but LLTC seems to be determined to get rid of many existing stalls at the real risk of totally destroying the Tuesday market.
“It is extraordinary to get 2043 signature in just two days. Why don’t LLTC councillors listen to those who elected them.”