Eviction threat to market traders

Market traders struggling in the face of the economic recession are facing eviction from their stalls in Lowestoft town centre because of a dispute over their leases.

Market traders struggling in the face of the economic recession are facing eviction from their stalls in Lowestoft town centre because of a dispute over their leases.

The vast majority of stallholders at the Waveney District Council-run market in the Britten Centre have refused to sign their new contracts and have been told to put pen to paper by tomorrow or face being thrown off their pitches.

They have reported falling trade during the credit crunch and put forward a proposal to council bosses to reduce rents on the agreement that existing traders would take over half a dozen empty stalls.

Fruit and veg stallholder Clive Marshall said anger then grew when their new lease documents arrived, indicating a 4.5pc increase in rents.

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In response, a council spokesman insisted rents were not increasing and that a meeting would take place tomorrow to try to resolve the confusion. However, he said the council could not afford a rent decrease.

Mr Marshall said: 'We are not happy. The town centre is in decline and we are just not getting the passing trade. We want some help in the present climate.

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'There has been a decline in footfall, with the increase in car parking charges and people going to out-of-town shops. Reducing the rents would encourage some of the existing stallholders to stay and fill these empty spaces.'

Mr Marshall revealed traders had called for a reduction in the daily rent from �18 to �10-12 on the basis the empty stalls were filled. He said this would benefit the council because it would no longer have to pay business rates on the unoccupied plots.

There are 30 pitches at the Britten Centre market, with 10 traders currently operating in all but six stalls. Nine have yet to sign their new lease prior to tomorrow's deadlines.

The traders and council were involved in a similar dispute two years ago when a wrangle over lease conditions was only resolved at the 11th hour.

The stallholders are being supported by Waveney council's opposition Labour group leader Malcolm Cherry, who said: 'We want to draw people into Lowestoft and I do have an issue with regard to taking business away from people in this climate.'

David Gallagher Waveney District Council's head of services, said any indication of a rent increase would have been an 'error' and 'breakdown in communication', but insisted stallholders must sign their new leases to carry on trading.

He added: 'If they don't sign, they won't be trading. We will only open the stalls for the people who have signed. We can't really afford to put rents down.'

Mr Gallagher claimed the traders' proposal to reduce rent would leave people with fewer stalls paying more than their counterparts, but stressed the council was willing to listen to alternative proposals. He added that the council tried to help traders, by providing them with one free pitch each and free parking.

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