Protest fears as market closes for last time

Lancaster Market closed 10th September 2012
Lancaster Market closed 10th September 2012

Controversy surrounds the closure of Lancaster Market this week after the city council locked the doors early amid fears of a “sit in protest”.

The market closed a week early on Saturday, despite contractual agreements with stall holders to continue trading until Friday, September 14.

The closure has been blamed on “financial mismanagement”, after Lancaster City Council entered into a 99-year lease with the building’s owners Allied (Lancaster) Ltd in the mid 1990s.

Due to increasing rents and failing confidence in the market, the council, and ultimately taxpayers, have been losing around £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 help relocate them.

Compensation was agreed with all traders, but many have been furious by the way the situation has been handled.

Trader Chris Green, the third generation of his family to sell baby clothes from his stall, said he had been left with £1,500 of stock which he had expected to sell in his final three days of trading.

He said: “It is a complete lack of regard for our contract.

“The market had been due to close on Friday but we agreed with the council to move that forward to Tuesday to allow them to get started on work and the next thing we heard was 10 minutes before we were due to shut on Saturday that we were closing for the final time.

“Our solicitors have been looking at the whole situation around the closure and I will be speaking with them about trying to get money back for this.”

The council said it became aware of “an event of some sort” being planned without its permission on Tuesday afternoon, and took the decision to close the building on Saturday, without consulting traders.

Traders did however agree to leave on Tuesday.

A member of Occupy Lancaster, who did not wish to be named, said the group was asked to support an event to mark the closure of the market, and the only thing planned was a leaving party.

He said: “A few people, not involved with Occupy but local residents, asked if Occupy would support a ‘leaving party’.

“They thought it would be nice to mark the end of the market by giving gifts to traders and leaving a wreath with some wording along the lines of ‘Lancaster Market: another community resource killed by financial mismanagement’.

“So far as I know, there was no intention to sit in, no plan to occupy, and certainly no preparation for anything illegal or obstructive.

“It was local residents, who have not been involved with Occupy, who wondered if a small gesture might be undertaken to signal the end of the market with a positive action on behalf of the traders.”

Mark Cullinan, Chief Executive of Lancaster City Council, said: “The market building was scheduled for closure this Friday (September 14).

“However the council became aware an event of some sort was being proposed to take place there sometime this week and without permission from the council.

“It was therefore agreed with the remaining market traders to close the building a few days earlier on the Tuesday.

“Later detail then revealed the event was being organised for Tuesday afternoon and accordingly the decision was taken to close the market building at the end of trading on Saturday to avoid any problems.”