Passionate campaigner Victoria Harvey took the row over rent rises at Leighton Buzzard Market to the High Court yesterday (Monday).
The Linslade activist, who previously unsuccessfully challenged Central Beds Council’s decision to grant permission for the Grovebury Road Retail Park at the High Court, is now seeking a Judicial Review over a town council decision to increase rents at the market.
On Monday, Ms Harvey submitted papers to the High Court in London contesting the ruling of town council’s Cultural and Economic Services Committee of March 12.
She said: “It is really, really scary going to the High Court due to the financial risks, but the market and the town are so important to me and I know means so much to many people in the town especially elderly people, that it is one of those moments when you have to take action.”
She said the new rent structure was “unfair” and had not been properly consulted on before the committee’s decision, claiming that the majority of market traders opposed it.
She said traders with larger stalls would be forced to leave due to the rent increases, leading to a serious decline and eventual demise of the market.
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 eye-watering rent rises of several thousands of pounds per year 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.
Despite these concessions, the chairman of the Leighton Buzzard Market Traders, Dave Gibbins, who runs the card stall, insisted the new rents remained unreasonable and presented a petition to the council where 26 signatories had stated the loyalty rent reduction was not fair to all.
He claimed those on bigger stalls were facing “extortionate” rent rises which could risk the future of the Tuesday market. He said his 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.
Ms Harvey added: “I don’t understand why the town council have dug their heels in on this issue. We have been begging them to find a compromise to resolve the rent issue right up to the last minute and I know that market trader representatives have been trying to resolve this as well, but it seems that the council would prefer to go to the High Court to support a rent structure that the councillors themselves say in the minutes of the meeting is confusing and it seems that they are prepared to lose several large market stalls.
“I am representing myself which is a huge challenge but this will save on taxpayer’s money if the town council insists on going forward on this.”
She said: “Leighton Buzzard is a market town and the market is the heart of the town. The market sells good quality goods at an affordable price and plays such a huge role in the community for all types of people.
“For those who are elderly or suffer from a long-term disability as well as for many other residents and visitors the market is so important for feeling part of the community and for everyday shopping and quality of life.
“To lose three large stalls on a Saturday would be bad for the future of the market, but, on a Tuesday, would be disastrous and would lead to a cycle of decline and we could lose the market.
“I have been campaigning on this all year and have done all I can to avoid going to court. Other markets such as Amersham and Chesham nearby are doing really well, but since the relaunch of our market there has been no increase in footfall or income for the traders and so losing three stalls could be fatal.”
Leighton-Linslade Town Council has declined to comment on the matter.