Dismayed Leighton Buzzard stallholders have gone public with the eye-watering rent increases of up to £6,200 per year they claim they are facing as the town council prepares to relaunch the market later this month.
Under the rebranding, set for September 23, a number of stall holders say they won’t be able to stay in business as Leighton-Linslade Town Council standardises pitch sizes and fees, 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, long-standing traders have said they had negotiated their own price many years ago – and the resultant hike will be too great to absorb.
Dave Gibbins, who runs the card stall on Tuesdays and Saturday, told the LBO his annual rent would increase by over £6,200 (200%) under the new regulations and would be £95 per day.
He said: “I agree £19 for a gazebo is good value for a new trader, but for me, because I work 20ft deep I now have got to pay for the extra footage.
“Historically, markets only charge by frontage and not depth, that now puts me in the five gazebo bracket which my business can’t support. It would end up costing me money to come and work out of the market.
“I can’t carry on. I work in bulk and need to have a certain amount of protection from the elements.”
Mr Gibbins, who has worked on markets for 30 years, and in Leighton Buzzard for the past decade, said: “The council have created a monster. Stalls have got bigger, they gobble up space if someone packs up. The council have created that and allowed people to do that. Now they are saying you’ll have to pay for that but they are talking a massive increase. I know of three different traders who are facing £3,000-4,000 rent increases if they don’t condense down.
“The pitch size they offered me is a quarter of the size. I’m now waiting for another one-to-one with the council.”
He added traders had some breathing space due to the council deciding not to introduce the increases until next year. “The rent is static till March, then they’ll start slowly increasing the rent. 16 months from now, that’s when we’ll be paying the full amount.”
Mr Gibbins said the council had stated there would be a review of the market relaunch after a six-month trial period and was pinning his hopes on staying in Leighton Buzzard on this, adding: “They could then after six months look at it again and make changes which will avoid a big u-turn and save face.”
Karen Young, of Turner’s Nurseries flower stall, situated outside Rosehill Pharmacy, said her rent would shoot up by £4,800 (100%) per year unless she used less space.
She said: “Our rents are going to climb. We can’t trade unless we have got that space.
“In our one-to-one we were told we could stay put and have the same space. We own our own stall, but the space is the equivalent to five gazebos.
“The rent increase won’t happen till April, then it’s 10 per cent per month, so within 14 months of the relaunch it will be the full amount to pay.
“There’s no way we can afford that, so they’ve got to back down.
“Everyone’s going to sit tight for six months and then hope they change their mind. There ought to be a loyalty bonus for stalls who have been here for a long time, or do Tuesday and Saturday.”
Mrs Young also cast doubt on problems being ironed out in time for the September 23 relaunch date.
“It’s just three weeks away, that’s pushing it. They are saying the one-to-one discussions are going well, but that’s not really what we’ve heard.
“We’ve been told we may get £125 grant to get new sheeting so everyone has blue and white, but if, as we’ve heard, they’ve run out of money to buy tables for the gazebos, have they run out of money for sheeting? We still don’t know if we’re getting the grant.
“What change will you see on launch day? The new gazebos, a couple of stalls moved? We are not going to buy the new sheets till we get the money.”
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 Snorth 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.
A council spokesman said: “Leighton-Linslade Town Council statement regarding market rents and the relaunch:
“Whilst the Town Council does not accept or indeed recognise the financial assertions made by Mr Gibbins and Ms Young, the Town Council is not prepared to discuss matters pertinent to them in a public forum. Should either party wish to continue discussions with the Town Council over the market relaunch and how this may impact upon them, we would welcome the opportunity to continue the dialogue in a private and measured fashion.
“Running the market will cost the parish £123,000 this year. Whilst the Town Council receives rent from the market traders, the Town Council still has to subsidise its running to the tune of £22,000 per annum. Whilst it is prepared to continue doing this in the short term at least, what the Town Council is no longer prepared to do is to continue subsidising the market rent that certain traders pay for the privilege of trading on the twice weekly market.
“Certain traders have enjoyed paying reduced rents based on legacy agreements made between them and the market manager of the time. In one example, a trader is paying 58% less rent than they ought to for the frontage they occupy.
“This means the Town Council is receiving at least £42 less rent than it ought to per trading day which over a year equates to £4,032 more subsidy the Town Council has to find. Whilst a recognised practice within the market world, the Town Council is no longer prepared to carry on with this at the expense of established traders and other services it may wish to otherwise support within the parish.
“The independent shops within the town do not enjoy the same privilege so why should market traders? This practice is considered both unfair and divisive and will now stop.
“The Market Relaunch project is predicated on fairness and is not a financially driven exercise. If the objective were to make the market an income generating activity, the increased financial burden in terms of meeting the running costs would have to fall square on the market traders as the Town Council has no control over the fixed costs it has to pay in the running of the market.
“For example, the Town Council pays fixed costs that include rates, refuse and security costs which total £30,000. Readers should be made aware that since the Town Council took over the running of the market in 2012, market rents have remained static meaning an even greater burden on the parish by way of increasing subsidy as the fixed costs associated with its running continue to rise.
“When compared to other markets, our rent remains extremely competitive and will continue to be so post relaunch. Based on a total of 30 traders, 15 rents will in fact go down and a further 9 trader rents will go up by less than £10 per day post relaunch. The Town Council is working with the 6 traders that will be most affected by the withdrawal of rent subsidy and to date, 3 have confirmed they want to work with the Town Council and are prepared to consolidate the space they occupy. For the remaining 3, the Town Council is committed to supporting them and will do everything it can reasonably do to avoid losing them.
“ Looking forward, the expectation is that all traders will pay for the space their business occupies:- a principle familiar to those who rent commercial property. As your readers will undoubtedly have noticed, certain market traders have (where space allows) taken advantage of their pitch location by legitimately increasing the depth of their stall. The historic town council fee structure would allow this practice as traders only paid for the frontage of their stall and not the depth.
“Again, the Town Council considers this unfair and indeed divisive to those fellow traders who by virtue of their location are unable to comparatively expand the depth of their business to their detriment.
“ The Town Council recognises that in certain cases, market trader rents may well change as the legacy agreements that certain traders have enjoyed come to an end. To help support traders that have benefited from this practice as well as those that have not, the Town Council has held the introduction of its new fee structure until 1st April 2018. Even then, any increases will be introduced incrementally (10% per month until equalisation is reached).
“As with any project, there will inevitably be matters that will need addressing at some future date. To address this, the Town Council has stated that it will review the market relaunch project in 6 months’ time and decide then what changes (if any) need to be made.
“The Town Council remains committed to the relaunch date of 23rd September 2017. To help support our market traders, we are continuing with our 1-to-1 sessions. Their purpose to inform traders of the market relaunch project and how this may affect them individually. Also, it provides them with the opportunity to ask of any training they may wish for in order to improve their business. As part of the funding arrangement, the Town Council is also providing financial assistance should traders wish to purchase new equipment such as covers to improve the appearance of their business.
“For those that visit the market post relaunch day, it is hoped that visitors will appreciate a more defined market layout through the use of the market cross area as well as middle row.
“The introduction of branded gazebos, canopies and improved lighting (medium term objective) will contribute toward improving the already vibrant atmosphere of the market.
“The use of complimentary town council gazebos is entirely down to the individual traders. Should traders prefer to continue to use their own stalls and equipment, the Town Council would support this approach also. All that is asked is that covers that are used over stalls are both clean and free from tears.
“ The expectation is that market traders will be asked to review the floorspace they occupy and work within the agreed parameters of 27sqm. In some cases, traders may wish to maximise their frontage presence whilst in other may prefer for an increase in depth.
“The policy does allow an element of flexibility which the Market Manager will address on a case by case basis. By encouraging a variety of market stall shapes, this will contribute toward the market experience to the benefit of shoppers and visitors to our historic town centre.
“The Town Council is passionate about the market and like everyone else, wishes to see it succeed in the common interests of the traders and the town centre alike.”
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