Market traders have urged St Albans council to get its “lawless” Charter Market under control, a leaked recording reveals.

Audio from a tense meeting between officials and traders also reveals that the city’s new “hybrid market” – a mix of traditional stalls and gazebos – has been delayed by months.

Traders were captured complaining that lax rules had contributed to financial losses for years.

They said the situation had worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lawless market doesn’t work,” one said.

Market manager James O’Nuanain was recorded admitting that St Albans has suspended rules, fearing traders will quit rather than comply.

“If we were to be very strictly enforcing at the moment, we would have at least 30 per cent less traders on an average Saturday,” he claimed.

He added that the market was “running on one member of staff” after a string of resignations.

Traders were told it could be months before new rules were implemented.

But after the Herts Ad asked questions, they have been moved forward.


Traders who request pitches and then don’t show up have not been charged for years, the meeting heard.

Some were allegedly allowed to keep permanent spaces despite only showing up half the time.

When St Albans permitted a bring-your-own gazebo market to enable social distancing, some traders then began taking up more space than they used to.

This, one trader alleged, created the perception that people could do as they liked.

“There’s no rules and everyone’s got that attitude now,” they said.

Another trader told officials that a stall selling the same items as hers had recently opened right next to hers – previously not allowed.

Traders told council staff the situation was “not acceptable”.

Mr O’Nuanain told them: “We are still very much in flux between a market where everyone was trading within their pitches and there was greater density and there was a set of rules in place, to a market where everyone was trading in an isolated pitch and everyone spread and occupied more space.”

Herts Advertiser: How St Albans Charter Market looked before the Covid-19 pandemic, with its uniform, traditional stallsHow St Albans Charter Market looked before the Covid-19 pandemic, with its uniform, traditional stalls (Image: Archant)


Public realm manager Stuart Fitzsimmons said the council wanted to bring in new rules, but would procure new stalls first.

The hybrid market, supposed to launch in September, has already been delayed.

If creating new rules came first, he said, it would be delayed even further.

“Regardless of what equipment you’re working with, or not working with, you need rules,” one trader protested.

“All I’m saying is we will procure the new equipment first,” said Mr Fitzsimmons. “I see no reason why we can’t have the rules in place this year.”

“That was said last year,” a sceptical trader retorted.


The council also claimed it could not properly enforce new rules unless it invented a new computer programme.

Mr O’Nuanain said there was “no off-the-shelf software” for monitoring compliance at markets, so “We need to build something in-house.”

“That’s just crazy,” one trader told the Herts Ad, asking why St Albans could not use existing software to note breaches of market rules, such as Microsoft Word or Excel.

The council said it did use Excel, but was also “developing in-house a modern, efficient IT system for managing the market”.


One trader told officials that uncertainty had loomed “like a cloud over us for years now”, causing “a huge amount of unpleasantness”.

“I apologise for what’s happened before I got here, but I can’t do anything about that,” said Mr Fitzsimmons.

“I don’t disagree that things have not gone well in the past, but we are trying to fix those now.”

But traders said action was needed urgently, as inaction was affecting the whole city centre.

“Without the market, I think St Albans town will die,” said one.

“It will become another Hatfield or Stevenage or any of the other towns you may wish to mention, not far away, that have got empty shops, charity shops, drunks, beggars.

“We are beginning to get a bit of that, but I think if the market was thriving, it would help.”


St Albans council said “final proposals” for the traditional stalls will now be created in October.

Then 80 stalls will be ordered, but delivery may be phased “over two years”.

It confirmed some rules “have been relaxed in recognition of the difficulties faced by traders” since COVID-19.

But it said new rules would now be formally agreed and launched “by late September”.