St Albans Charter Market: Stalls vs gazebos to be debated by cross-party group

How St Albans charter market looks since the pandemic hit.

How St Albans charter market looks since the pandemic hit. - Credit: Matt Adams

The contentious issue of traditional stalls versus pop-up gazebos at St Albans' historic Charter Market is set for debate by a cross-party working group following a Herts Ad investigation.

The group was set up by the district council's business and regeneration committee, and comes in the wake of an extensive newspaper report looking into the controversy.

The group will also consider the impact on the market of possible long-term pedestrianisation of parts of the city centre and the extension of al fresco dining.

It will hold at least four meetings before reporting its findings and recommendations in November.

The market was kept open during Covid lockdowns by introducing gazebos which traders were required to provide and erect to reduce the risk of surfaces being contaminated by the virus.

Previously, a team of council workers was employed to erect and take down stalls which were stored at a depot, but they were made redundant last yar.

The working group will recommend how and when a pilot scheme of a gazebo-only market should be undertaken to test its popularity, sustainability and long-term viability especially among traders and shoppers.

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Details of the technical matters to be monitored during the pilot, including the erection, dismantling, weighting and colour of gazebos and weather-related health and safety concerns, will be discussed and agreed.

Other issues the working group will consider include the likely financial costs of continuing with gazebos compared to a return to stalls and the relationship and additional benefits for the public and the council of the markets run by the St Albans Business Improvement District (BID).

Committee chair Cllr Robert Donald said: “Our Charter Market is one of the district’s greatest economic and community assets, providing fresh food and a wide range of clothing and household goods at best value prices and attracting many visitors to the city centre. When operating properly it also benefits surrounding shops, restaurants and other businesses.

“We managed to keep it open at the height of the pandemic by switching to gazebos brought by the traders themselves while markets elsewhere closed.

“It is important that we now look at how best to develop the market in our post-Covid world and my committee has set up this working group to carry out an in-depth study of the options and the costs.

“In examining these issues this cross-party group will be consulting further as necessary with all interested parties, including the traders many of whom have worked at the market for decades and earn their main livelihood from it.

“It is my intention that the working group should seek to reduce the temperature of this hotly-debated issue and generate more light than heat in their recommendations to the regeneration and business committee.

“We are determined to continue delivering an attractive and sustainable market that is worthy of our city and heritage. The working group will report to the November committee meeting when I am aiming that members will decide which is the best strategy to implement for the market’s future.”