Hybrid Charter Market agreed for St Albans

St Albans Charter Market will be a hybrid of traditional stalls and gazebos from September 7.

St Albans Charter Market will be a hybrid of traditional stalls and gazebos from September 7. - Credit: SADC

A compromise has finally been agreed on the future of St Albans' iconic Charter Market.

A hybrid mix of traditional stalls - in the city’s famous colours of blue and yellow – and gazebos will be launched on September 7.

The running of the market will also be outsourced for a trial period of six months.

The district council has been examining the market's future following the COVID-19 pandemic.

SADC had proposed a cost-cutting switch to self-erected gazebos, but after a Herts Ad investigation into traders’ questions and concerns, it set up a cross-party group to reconsider.

To provide the hybrid market, 80 new stalls will be purchased by SADC to replace the current ones which are considered to be bulky, run-down and not of a standard type.

Only one or two trailers will be required to transport the new equipment from storage to the market site in St Pater’s Street, replacing the 16 vehicles that were previously used. So far 35 St Albans-branded gazebos have already been purchased, and existing equipment will be sold off to raise funds for the new equipment.

Tenders are also being sought for a contractor to put up and dismantle the market stalls and gazebos for traders.

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The new initiatives were recommended by SADC's market task and finish group to a meeting of the regeneration and business committee on Tuesday and approved.

Committee chair Cllr Robert Donald said: “I am absolutely delighted that we are finally able to push forward with a hybrid market, as agreed earlier this year, at speed and that it will launch in September.

“I have been as frustrated as some members of the public that it was not possible to get on with this sooner because holding the necessary meetings was not legally permitted during the recent local election period.

“We will now have the best of both worlds – the reassuring sight of the return of stalls in uniform St Albans heritage colours in St Peter's Street together with gazebos, some provided by us and others on the edge of the market by the traders themselves.

“The temporary move to a gazebo-only market during the pandemic sparked an intense public debate about the future and whether we should keep the gazebos or move back to stalls.

“That issue has now been settled and we can look at other aspects of the market.

“In recommending these actions to secure the future of the market, the cross-party task and finish group previously consulted intensively with traders, considered all public and political feedback and arrived at a strategy that I am hoping will be popular with all involved.”

The committee also agreed that an external operator will be sought to help run the market for a six-month trial with the council retaining overall managerial control.

This may be a charity or firm with expertise in the market sector such as the company that wins the contract to erect and dismantle the stalls.

An assessment of how successful the trial proves to be will be carried out by the task and finish group.

The group will also consider whether the market should be run as a charitable trust at its next meeting later this summer.

New licensing and bad weather policies for the market have also been agreed.

Cllr Donald added: “Our Charter Market dates back centuries. It is one of our city’s great attractions and we are determined to ensure it has a sustainable and exciting future ahead of it.

“I want to see the market thriving again as quickly as possible since it is an indispensable part of our district’s economic health and vibrancy. We have set a target of getting back to pre-pandemic levels of traders and income again over the next 18 months to two years.

“With these changes in place, I’m confident it will go from strength to strength in the years ahead to the benefit of all our great traders, residents and visitors.”