Councillors at loggerheads over changes to St Albans market stalls

St Albans Charter Market.

St Albans Charter Market. - Credit: Archant

A war of words has broken out between senior councillors over the future of St Albans Charter Market.

Conservative Cllr Annie Brewster, chair of the district’s community, environment and sport scrutiny committee, has accused the Lib Dem administration of failing to consult on plans to remove the traditional blue and yellow market stalls and replace them with a variety of gazebos.

She said: “The proposal to dispose of our traditional market stalls seems to have been advanced without adequate debate or attention.

“The committee felt this is a very major issue affecting the future look of our city centre and it needs to re-thought and consulted on more widely. We must hear the views of traders, shoppers, local businesses and the public at large.

“Members felt it was important to ensure that, once the pandemic is over, our 1553 Charter Market is uniquely branded again in St Albans’ colours. It needs to revert to a tidy, uniform appearance to project the right image of our city, as a major jewel in our crown.

“There was a concern that dispensing with stalls to save the council money would open the door to re-development of the storage depot in Drovers Way where the market equipment is stored, removing this valuable resource.

“While Covid has hit the council’s finances and we always have to be cost efficient, the committee was of the view that the Charter Market is the beating heart of the city and must be properly resourced.”

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Cllr Brewster said committee members had made a number of recommendations, including proposal to use gazebos permanently to be subject to a full consultation with traders, local shops, councillors and residents.

In addition, gazebos or any new stalls should in future be branded uniformly with the traditional colours.

A further recommendation was that decisions on the future of the market, including is appearance and layout, should be cost-effective.

But Liberal Democrat Cllr Mandy McNeil, portfolio holder for business, tourism and culture, has hit back at the accusations, claiming Cllr Brewster’s views did not represent those of Lib Dems on the committee.

She said the matter of uniform gazebos in St Albans colours had been discussed at the September Cabinet meeting and reported in the Herts Ad.

“Cllr Brewster observed that the market has lost cash for years under Tory leadership. I’m puzzled that the previous administration, of which she was a key member, never sought to do anything about that.

“In light of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of accumulated Tory council market losses, I’m going to take their styling recommendations with a pinch of salt. We are working with traders whose representatives are joining the St Albans Visitor Partnership, a group which includes residents, the Chamber of Commerce, the BID and tourism specialists, Visit Herts. Everyone agrees there is a way to combine heritage with innovation and to return our market finances to break-even in a post-Covid future. It just takes a bit of commercial sense.”

“Long queues, selling out by early afternoon and visitor footfall data shows that us that the interim gazebo arrangement has not been detrimental to footfall. We know that a majority of traders prefer gazebos, we’ve had feedback from many, who advise us that gazebos are better as they provide a larger area to display more product and some traders advise that a gazebo lets them trade out of three sides, generating more income opportunity.”

Council leader Cllr Chris White added: “Conservatives seem yet again to have been fast asleep during cabinet meetings: the September cabinet made the changes perfectly clear and indeed there was a debate about them, at which the concerns now being made were raised by members of the opposition. So, it’s a bit difficult to understand how the chair of the scrutiny committee can claim there was no debate or attention.”