Charter Market gazebos plan is fait accomplit says portfolio holder
- Credit: Matt Adams
Proposals to replace the stalls on St Albans Charter Market with gazebos are a fait accomplit according to the portfolio holder responsible.
Market traders were told in March that a trial of the proposed uniformed gazebos would be taking place in June, involving around 20 stall-holders.
No decisions have yet been made on which traders or what area of the market would be used, but the Herts Ad understands the pilot will cost approximately £20,000.
But Cllr Mandy McNeil, portfolio holder for business, tourism and culture, said the extensive consultation process was over and a decision had been made.
"I am pleased to report that at the final trader consultation meeting, which I attended, we were able to reassure traders that the post-Covid plan, as presented to Cabinet in March, is for a uniform gazebo market, with gazebos provided by and built by the council.
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"Our feedback shows that the vast majority of traders say they prefer to trade from gazebos, rather than the old market stalls."
But when the Herts Ad surveyed 45 traders at this Wednesday's market we found 31 were in favour of a return to the old stalls, eight preferred gazebos, two didn't mind as long as the council puts them up, one liked a mixture and three didn't vote.
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At the previously mentioned March meeting of traders, it was suggested by Sarah Torrance, public realm manager at SADC, and Joe Tavernier, head of community services, that gazebos would have to be erected by traders.
SADC confirmed its position this week: "A final decision on the running of a permanent post-Covid market has not yet been taken. As agreed in the Cabinet meeting held on March 18th 2021, we will trial a uniform gazebo market including providing support to erect the council-owned gazebos in June of this year.
"Following the trial a report will be provided to the relevant committee covering how the trial went and making recommendations about the long term operating structure of the market."
Mandy also insisted that the dispute over new terms and conditions was over: "I'm delighted to say that we have reached a consensus with traders advising they are happy with the new regulations, subject to receipt and review of final documentation."
She explained that her approach is to run the Charter Market in a more business-like way, claiming SADC had been subsidising it to the tune of £180,000 a year.
"Let's be clear - a pound in subsidy to the market is a pound taken away from essential council services. So continuing to subsidise the market is no longer a practical option, especially when we can deliver the same service in a vibrant way for the benefit of residents and visitors, at break-even, or possibly with a surplus."
She accused the previous Tory administration of fundamental flaws in how the market operated, claiming their regulations resulted in multiple complaints from both traders and residents of bullying, verbal abuse, anti-semitism, foul language and acts of aggression.
The decision to move to gazebos has not only divided market traders, but also prompted concern from other sections of the community.
Phil Corrigan, manager of The Maltings Shopping Centre, said: "Most companies protect their corporate image and while they are only market stalls they do reflect the St Albans brand. Unfortunately it could easily resemble a car boot sale, rather than a vibrant historic market."
Labour spokesman Iain Grant said: "Right now, the Lib Dems seem to be out to destroy the character of our traditional market, with nothing more than token consultation. We’ll be urging them to think again.
"It is simply not good enough to expect traders to transport and erect their own stalls, or to insist on flimsy gazebos to replace the more robust stands they have used. This is no way to treat loyal traders."
Cllr Annie Brewster, who chaired all the district council meetings scrutinising the council’s market service operations, said: “I am encouraged the market portfolio holder has confirmed, once the pandemic is over and we all get back to normal, Charter Market stalls will, once more, be erected and dismantled by the council.
"This makes complete sense. Clearly, it is safer to build up to 100 stalls before any pedestrians are in the city centre early in the morning.
"Equally, they can then be taken down at a quieter time well after the market has closed and the traders have packed their goods up and gone home. It also gives fair and equal opportunity to all traders irrespective of physical ability or number of people manning their stalls.
"In terms of the portfolio holder confirming the council’s post-Covid plan is to run the Charter Market with council bought uniform gazebos, I believe this to be a misunderstanding. I believed the plan is to hold a pilot scheme of 20 new gazebos over the month of June to test their suitability.
"This will include examining a raft of health and safety and suitability issues. The tests will involve all aspects of their usage; surviving high winds, heavy rain, weighting reliability, possibility of anchor points sunk into the pavements or road, weather protection of goods and shoppers, ease of erection, transportation and storage in the Market Depot etc.
"The pilot scheme will also test the vital question of whether the look and feel of gazebos are a better fit for our heritage city centre than our pre-Covid blue and yellow traditional stalls.
"This will include looking at the impact of the gazebo’s additional height and depth compared to the old stalls as this will have an impact on high street shop signage and window display visibility.
"In addition, scaled plans have shown the greater depth of gazebos will necessitate visitor footfall only to be available on one side of them at certain points in St Peter’s Street.
"This also means market traders’ goods vans will no longer be able to park on the pavement when loading and unloading their produce, instead parking on St Peter’s Street itself.
"Hence, examining pedestrian mobility around the stalls and potential bottlenecks at certain times of day in St Peter’s Street are elements that need factoring into any final operational decision.
"We trust this final decision will reflect feedback from residents, Charter Market visitors, adjacent shop keepers, café, pub and restaurant owners, bus companies, the local Highways Authority, Shopmobility and the market traders themselves.”
Around 2,000 people have signed a petition against gazebos at the Charter Market - https://www.change.org/p/residents-and-traders-of-st-abans-hertfordshire-save-st-albans-charter-market