Outraged traders have said strategies put forward to address a decline in Knaresborough and Ripon markets could force many current stall holders out of business.
A letter circulated by Harrogate Borough Council on November 29 listed ideas following a review to address a drop in the number of traders. Among them was the council no longer setting up stalls for traders to use.
Stall holders have until December 31 to make their views known on the potential changes which could come into effect next year. It is a major concern for people like Tony Kelly, who has worked Knaresborough and Ripon markets for 20 years.
Gathering the signatures of almost 60 traders his group, Save Knaresborough and Ripon Market, are calling for more time to challenge the plans.
Mr Kelly said: “Both we the market traders and the Chamber of Trade in Knaresborough are outraged with what they are proposing and intend to petition them to go back on it.
“This will finish up with the markets only having a few stalls left. Many of these people who come to trade just cannot fetch the stalls themselves, buying them means getting a van to carry them safely and then looking at storage. It is going to put a lot of people out of business.
He added: “We have heard about this around the best time of year for us and been told we have around three weeks to respond on a major change. This is a market that has been here for hundreds of years and we feel these plans are being railroaded in.
“We are asking the council to give us an extension so we can properly organise a response from ourselves but also from other businesses, shops, cafes and restaurants who will be affected if this goes ahead.”
The review was done by WMC Retail Partners, whose portfolio includes indoor markets such as Morley and Luton. They suggested that if the stalls were withdrawn it could allow savings to be made while also preventing unused units from affecting the image of the markets.
Since 2015 the number of traders in Knaresborough has dropped by 9.5 per cent according to Harrogate Borough Council. Leader of the Council, Coun Richard Cooper said these changes are being introduced to try reverse this decline by encouraging new traders to come to the district.
Coun Cooper said: “Our market stall charges are well above average for our region. At the same time our markets are in decline.
“One only has to walk up the High Street in Northallerton on a Saturday to see what a vibrant market looks like.
“The reason our markets are not thriving is twofold. Firstly, we are running our markets in the same way that we have done for decades. Markets elsewhere have changed how they operate giving traders the freedom to use their own stalls so that they can exhibit and sell their goods in the way they want. This level of freedom attracts more and more traders.
“Secondly our prices are way above the regional average. Why should a trader come to our markets when they are allowed so little latitude to show off their wares and forced to pay so much more for the privilege.
“So I can announce that we are reducing our fees to below the regional average for markets. I know some of those who like the way we currently set up the stalls will not want to change.
“But the important thing here is to reverse the decline in markets, get new traders in and drop the prices so that the markets grow again. This will in turn attract more people to our commercial centres boosting trade for all retailers.”
Incentives will also be put forward including a summer price reduction of 14.35 per cent and 31.48 per cent during winter. New traders will also receive a 50 per cent first week discount.Since the letter was circulated the council has stated it will establish a new promotions budget to advertise the market.
However their overall approach has been criticized by the Knaresborough Chamber of Commerce, who say they are responsible for the decline and that changes will hit many current traders who are struggling.
Stephen Teggin, President of the Knaresborough Chamber of Trade and Commerce said: “This situation was created due to the neglect Harrogate Borough Council have consistently shown the market squares. For years nothing has been done to advertise them and little reinvesting done to improve or fill them.
“They are reducing the prices now but do they think it hasn’t been a problem over the years?”
He added: “Many of these traders are surviving by the skin of their teeth and other charges like paying for the stalls and transport could end them for good.
“I fear for the effect this could have on Knaresborough, this market is the jewel in our crown and as important to us as the Conference Centre is to Harrogate.”
A consultation has also begun among Harrogate Borough Council employees and Unison, due to a potential loss of income if the council decide to stop setting up stalls.
Branch Secretary of Unison, David Houlgate said: “We are currently consulting with members over how they wish to proceed going forward. This will continue through to the first week of the new year.”