St Albans market traders ‘refuse to rotate’ in protest at council restrictions
- Credit: Archant
St Albans market traders are refusing to rotate their stalls in defiance of council COVID restrictions.
New guidelines call for limits on the number of pitches and a fortnightly rota to enforce social distancing.
Protesting today, traders say the measures will cripple their busineses and wreck the market.
They are refusing to rotate their stalls and intend to pitch up en masse this weekend.
Handbags and luggage sellers Chris and Anita Hardwick said: “We have been here for 28 years.
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“We are disgusted with the council. They have dangled us on a string and now we have been told we have to rotate.”
Sharon Herd, who runs the bread stall, said: “Why is there no representative here today from the council? They are gutless.”
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David Vyse, fruit stall holder, said: “We cannot sell fruit and veg on a rotational basis. We also have three staff to pay.”
In a show-of-hands vote, traders unanimously agreed that they will not adhere to the rotation.
One trader said: “We have built up our businesses in St Albans over years. We cannot just easily go somewhere else.
“Although I must say, Portobello Road market has been in touch with traders like me on a weekly basis.
“We have not had a consultation. We have heard nothing since February.”
St Albans council has defended its stance on enforcing social distancing at the market.
Cllr Mandy McNeil, portfolio Holder for business, tourism and culture, said: “With multiple stakeholders, differing needs, government safety regulations and a pandemic to deal with, running the market is by no means straightforward at the moment.
“The council’s job is to balance the differing needs of everyone and ensure people remain safe in what is a very worrying and continuing state of emergency. The council continues to receive emails from residents who are terrified to come into town on a busy market day.
“The pandemic has meant we have had no choice but to operate at a very reduced capacity before and since Super Saturday. We are trying to maximise the number of stalls while maintaining social distancing. Our much-loved market is very popular, especially on sunny Saturdays, bringing thousands of staycationers into the city centre. We would be cheering at this type of footfall in normal circumstances, but unfortunately COVID19 has not gone away.
“There are key questions we are grappling with. For example, with limited space, available what’s the best way to decide which of the regular traders should trade this week, and who should be turned away. Do we prioritise local traders versus those who operate at other markets? What do we do if traders don’t turn up in bad weather? How do we ensure we have the right mix of stalls so residents can find what they want when they come to shop, while being fair to traders? What about local residents who have lost their jobs and would like the opportunity to start up a business as a new trader?
“We are conscious that there may be other solutions that we should consider. We announced last Friday that following successful landowner negotiations, this Saturday, August 1 we will be trialling an increase to the market footprint, using High Street and the area around the Alban Arena. We hope to be able to build up from there, in a safe and managed way. I’d like to see our food and drink stalls, which have been core to the market during the COVID19 lockdown, on a more frequent rotation, although they may need to feature in different locations.
“I asked traders to propose alternative layouts that balance their needs with those of other stakeholders, while still ensuring social distancing. Council officers are working through one proposal received, and we are arranging an online meeting with traders later this week to talk through this and other potential solutions. “