St Albans market traders hit back over council’s changes to rules

Market Day in St Albans

Market Day in St Albans - Credit: Archant

A market trader who has been selling in St Albans city centre for three decades has criticised a district councillor for saying that taxpayers foot the bill for unoccupied stalls.

The Herts Advertiser recently published a story on reforms introduced by the local council to help the city’s historic street market ‘flourish’, including charging increased pitch fees, reducing holiday breaks and the introduction of a two-week notice of breaks.

In it, the council’s portfolio holder for localism, Cllr Beric Read, said changes such as encouraging traders to pay fees by direct debit would help “better organise” the market and cover the cost of unoccupied stalls.

But David Lawrence, who has been selling locally for 33 years, said while most market traders would “accept an increase in fees for stalls within a reasonable amount, 91 stallholders have rejected the proposed overall changes to regulations, with no proper consultation.”

He went on: “Traders have been angered by the damaging statement by Cllr Read that taxpayers are footing the bill for unoccupied stalls on the market. This is not strictly true.”

David explained that according to a statement of accounts provided by the council, charter market activity was profitable.

He added: “This implies no additional subsidy by, or cost to, the taxpayer. It would also indicate that the cost of unoccupied stalls is covered within the profits made by the market.

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“It is true, however, that there was a £211k overspend of the budget. According to the [council’s] statement of accounts this was due to one-off costs of a market review and [worse than expected results] in the second year of the Christmas market. Culpability for this overspend cannot lie with individual traders.”

David added: “St Albans’ charter market is one of the best and most supported in Herts, and needs very little change to the rules. All that is needed is the existing rules to be implemented. Traders would like to see the charter accounts kept separate from the Christmas market, making the accounts more transparent than they currently are.”

The Herts Advertiser was unable to reach Cllr Read for comment, but he has previously said that the council is considering feedback on recent changes.