LANCASTER Market will close by September after city councillors backed a compensation deal agreed between traders and town hall chiefs.
The agreement was backed by councillors on what Peter Corke, chairman of the Lancaster Market Traders’ Association, said was “a sad day for Lancaster”.
The rent Lancaster City Council receives from traders has been failing to cover the costs of its 99-year lease from Allied (Lancaster), the owner of the market hall building in recent years. With the building now less than half full, the council has been losing in the region of £600,000 a year.
Last November, councillors resolved to close the market, pay up to £20m to surrender the lease, negotiate compensation with traders and possibly help relocate them.
But compensation initially proved a thorny issue, with traders preparing court action in an attempt to secure the continuous four-year leases they said they were entitled to under the Landlords and Tenants Act. The new leases would have improved traders’ bargaining power, but they were left concerned by four options for the building’s future which were presented to councillors last month.
They included a council funded re-development of the building under which it would either retain or surrender its lease, a re-development funded by Allied after the council had surrendered its lease and a deal by which the council purchased the building freehold.
Traders feared they would not be entitled to new leases under the act if the council wanted the market hall for its own use or as part of a re-development.
But councillors deferred a decision on those options and the compensation has now been agreed with traders.
Mr Corke said traders were happy with the compensation agreed, which he said reflected their entitlement to new leases and the amount they had privately agreed to settle for.
“We have now got three or four months to sort alternative premises and decide what to do, but I think the majority of us want to carry on,” said cobbler Mr Corke, who hopes to set up shop elsewhere in the city centre with the Him Wit Beard and Gillison’s stallholders.
“I think traders will be okay because the ones who have already gone like the butchers and fishmonger seem to have done very well.”
Mr Corke, who has traded at the market since 1989 said he would miss working the market atmosphere and the bond with fellow traders.
“It’s a sad day for Lancaster and I know a lot of customers who are sad to see the market closing,” he added.
“Somewhere the size of Lancaster should have an indoor market.
“It is hard to lay the blame with anyone in particular but a lot more could have been done by successive council administrations to turn the situation around.
“But they have not taken the bull by the horns and have now landed themselves with a big bill.”
It is feared the total cost to the council could surpass the £20m originally quoted, with its report admitting that “some of the key financial figures have changed materially.
According to Mr Corke it has also agreed to cover the costs of the traders’ negotiating agent and solicitor.
But the council has refused to provide a new estimate of the possible costs saying the information is “commercially sensitive”.
Council leader, Coun Eileen Blamire, said: “I have shopped at the market since I was a child and it’s a strange feeling to think it won’t be there.
“I am sorry about losing the market and I do hope the tenants find other premises.
“I’m really glad we have been able to agree a deal with them, because they have been in suspense for so long.
“It’s something that should have been dealt with a long time ago but the problem was that we could never get all the political parties to agree on what should be done.”
The council must now decide what to do with the building, and officers will work with agents Lambert Smith Hampton to negotiate with Allied.
“None of the options are easy and it is going to be a really difficult decision,” added Coun Blamire.
“But whatever we do will be better than another 83 years of losing so much money each year and I hope we will be able to pay any costs off over a much shorter period of time.”