Harpenden trader condemns St Albans festive market

St Albans Christmas Market

St Albans Christmas Market - Credit: Archant

An artist involved in last year’s Christmas market has criticised the way she was treated claiming the council was “out of its depth”.

Karen Neill, who creates ethical art from foraged materials, has blasted St Albans district council for what she says was the poor running of the market.

Ms Neill, who works out of her garden studio in Harpenden, said: “I stuck to their criteria but it seems to have gone against me.

“I made my payment before their deadline and was told I was allowed to book a minimum of seven days but when I arrived at the market there were a lot of people who had paid half the price of what I was paying and some who had the option to book fewer days.

“The council had obviously had problems in letting out the chalets so had offered them out cheaply.

“It was a lot to pay and it didn’t include any negotiation at all. I stressed this several times and then when I got there I found all these people who were paying a lot less than me.”

Ms Neill also maintained that the event was poorly advertised both in St Albans and outside of it.

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“Other stall holders were going bonkers.

“There was nothing to say what was going on apart from a small poster in the Town Hall and a little miserable sign on the arch of Waxhouse Gate.

“We were in ideal location but the council were out of their depth. They had a lot of people there who were in a vulnerable position as their business is their livelihood.”

But Richard Shwe, the district council’s head of community services. said traders applying before October 30 were required to make the final payment confirming the booking by the end of that month and after that deadline and in the period leading to the opening of the market, chalet spaces remained available.

He went on: “The council decided to offer some of these to potential new traders at prices which reflected the lateness of the bookings and the various periods available.”

That was done to “ensure the market was as full as possible to ensure a vibrant trading environment and to its support the commercial viability”.

Mr Shwe said leaflets had been distributed to a number of places including locations within a 90-minute drive of the city, in Herts, Beds, Bucks and North London.

He added that posters advertising the market had been displayed at St Albans station, London St Pancras and a number of London Underground stations, while banners were also put up in St Peters Street and outside the Tourist Information Centre in Market Place.

Ms Neill has received £150 from the council as a goodwill gesture following a meeting with Mr Shwe.

£60K Loss

Last year’s Christmas market in St Albans lost nearly £60,000 according to figures revealed by the council.

Takings from the event at the end of 2014 were only £164,000 compared with an overall spend of £220,000.

Indicative figures for 2013 also show a loss of almost £80,000, with an income of £81,000 and costs of £164,000.

But Lib Dem councillor Chris White argued that this was to be expected for the market in its early days. If these figures were in a couple of years time then it would be a different matter as we would expect an upward trajectory.

“I have personally enjoyed the market myself and bought Christmas presents from there though it could be bigger with more chalet holders which would hopefully close that gap.”

He added that a “general retail issue” with shops not opening late enough could have affected the market’s takings.