Row over new St Albans college market

The banner advertising the markets at Oaklands college in Fleetville

The banner advertising the markets at Oaklands college in Fleetville - Credit: Archant

Could centuries of St Albans’ history be under threat after the launch of alternative markets in the district?

A former city centre manager, Melvyn Teare, has described a decision to host occasional Saturday markets at Oaklands College as a direct challenge to those held twice weekly in the heart of St Albans.

He was “disturbed” to see the college had recently begun hosting Saturday markets at its Smallford campus, Hatfield Road, adding, “Our Saturday and Wednesday markets have operated under a Royal Charter dating from 1553.”

Melvyn, a former district councillor once responsible for the markets, explained: “The charter provides protection for our traders from undue competition within six-and-two-thirds of a mile of the [city’s] market site.”

He said “the law is very clear as to the distance” and that establishing a market on the same day as a charter market could be deemed a “nuisance and damages could be claimed against the operator”.

The charter market franchise is held by St Albans district council.

In the St Albans Civic Society’s latest newsletter Melvyn, a committee member of the watchdog group, takes the council to task for not enforcing the charter and putting a halt to Oaklands’ market.

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He wrote: “It begs the question whether the council is acting in the best interests of the city and is a capable custodian for our historic charter market franchise.”

A spokesman for Oaklands said the college had been aware of “possible concerns” when approached to host a farmers’ and craft market.

Following guidance from the council, Oaklands had insisted the organiser restrict markets at the campus to just 14 a year.

The spokesman said: “This we hope adds value and variety to the city and district, and gives an opportunity for traders and start-ups unable to find space in the existing farmers’ markets to have a pitch to sell local produce.”

Richard Shwe, the council’s head of community services, said Oaklands’ markets were “different and more niche in nature” compared to those in the city centre.

He added: “We took the view that they are not in direct competition with our traditional street market and our popular farmers’ market on the second Sunday of each month.”

Mr Shwe said that attracting new visitors to St Albans was a “council priority,” along with expanding the city’s current markets.

He said: “We are always keen to support organisations like Oaklands College and any new initiative that brings people and trade to our city.”