Market gazebo trial delayed as council admits it cannot fund scheme

St Albans Charter Market

A pilot scheme for gazebos at St Albans Charter Market has been delayed until later this year. - Credit: Matt Adams

There is no money for buying or erecting gazebos to replace stalls at St Albans Charter Market, councillors have been told.

The revelation came at a meeting of the district's scrutiny committee, when Cllr Karen Young, vice-chair of the policy committee, was quizzed over the proposed gazebos pilot scheme.

Earlier this year, market traders were told a trial of the proposed uniformed gazebos would be taking place in June, involving around 20 stall-holders at a cost of approximately £20,000.

Cllr Mandy McNeil, at the time portfolio holder for business, tourism and culture, said then that SADC would be paying for the purchase and erection of the gazebos.

But asked about the pilot scheme by Cllr Frances Leonard at last Thursday's meeting, Cllr Young told councillors: "One of the primary drivers of the market reorganisation was the dire financial situation. Any option that requires us to have a large team of erectors or spend a large amount of money on gazebos is not a viable option right now."

Following the meeting, a decision has now been taken to delay the pilot until the autumn.

The pilot scheme gazebos will be put up by a contractor, who will also dismantle and store the gazebos at the end of the working day. 

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Feedback will be obtained from traders, shoppers and local businesses, and officers will be monitoring performance of the gazebos in different weather conditions before a final report and recommendation is made to the council’s regulatory and business committee later this year. 

Cllr McNeil, now lead councillor for various business activities including markets, said: “We targeted late June for the pilot scheme as we had to have a COVID lay out until the Government removed the social distancing measures.

“These plans have now had to be put back following the government decision to continue with COVID restrictions for the time being.

“COVID continues to put pressure on council finances and we are exploring how best to fund the purchase of gazebos as part of the business plan process. The financial position of the market has improved, and we are seeking further cost reductions including reviewing our very high business rates and whether those are justified.

“When it gets underway, the pilot scheme will be a good way of testing layouts and gauging the opinions of traders, businesses and residents on the best way forward.”