MULTIPLE veteran market traders in Northampton have condemned the council's two-year rent free offer at a temporary site during refurbishment works.
Traders angry at being moved out of Northampton’s Market Square during an £8.4 million revamp will not have to pay pitch fees during the relocation.
West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) made the announcement last week in a bid to appease market traders such as Eamonn ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick who has launched a petition in protest against the move. So far he has more than 10,000 signatures.
Chronicle & Echo spoke to Fitzy on Tuesday (May 17) who criticised the council's gesture saying it is “out of touch”.
However, to get a better understanding of the traders' views, this newspaper spoke to a host of them on Wednesday (May 18).
Here's what they said about the council's free rent offer.
Catherine, from Tony Jones Florist, said the gesture is “not enough".
She said: "That's not enough compensation for the fact that it is moving us. We won't get the footfall down there we need to carry on with perishable goods. We will have to reduce our stall a lot and it just won't be worth our while going down there.
"We feel, in two years, we won't have a business to come back to. They are offering the free rent trying to soften the blow a little bit.
"Commercial Street isn't good enough. We need to be kept together. We think Wood Hill or Abington Street would have been a good option, we could have made that work for two years.
"We don't think it's good enough to just concentrate on venues, events, and a lot of caterers. We feel that's not really the way to go for a market town."
Lesley McDonald, who has been selling socks and underwear at her stall for 32 years, said the free rent is “not going to make any difference”.
She said: "I've not had one customer tell me they're going to come down there to us, so giving us the free rent won't make any difference.
"We'll have no choice but to go, I'll give it a go but I know within a month we will all be gone. The moment we leave Market Square our business is gone.
"Two years is a long time, we've lost two years already with Covid and now we're going to lose another two. We can't survive. We'll be sorry to go. I don't think the council wants us back. We do have meetings but they don't really listen to us."
Veteran fruit and vegetable stall holder Mick Andreoli said the town centre has been left to “wrack and ruin”.
He said: "Rent free? Forget it. You can gift wrap it but it'll make no difference whatsoever.
"I'll give it a week, but I absolutely do not think it will work. They don't want us back here. They want to turn this town into casinos, with drinking and gambling.
"This town centre has just been left to wrack and ruin. The council thinks it can fix this with entertainment. Entertainment does not work. We should have had a successful town centre but it's gone the opposite way.
"Please, council, rethink the situation. Entertainment and retail do not go together. The council need to talk to us instead of telling us what's good for us."
Mick said the secret to a thriving town centre is to treat it like a retail park.
He said: "All the retail parks around Northampton are all successful, so why has the town centre failed? It's because at the other retail parks you don't have to pay for car parking, they don't have vandals, they don't have drugs."
Nick, who has been running M&G Butchers for 20 years on the market, said rent free “won't solve the problem”.
The butcher said: "Free rent's all well and good but if we're not doing any trade then it's going to be difficult.
"I've been down to Commercial Street car park and there's no footfall down there whatsoever.
"80 percent of my customers said they can't get down to Commercial Street, because they are quite elderly a lot of them. I would love to think it will work but I just can't see it.
"We've suggested different places but we're not being listened to. All WNC want is the cheapest option, which is for us to go down Commercial Street. We have no other choice."
Fruit and vegetable trader Dave Dunkley echoed his fellow traders' views.
He said: "If you're getting rent free but your footfalls down by 40 percent then it doesn't cover you, you're still working at a loss. If the council think this is going to work for us I'd like to know how.
"Our main concern is, if we go down to Commercial Street and after six months it's no good, what happens then? I presume it will be the end of the market.
"Whatever you put to them they disagree with you.”
Luq Singh, who has been a phone stall trader for more than 20 years, said she would rather pay the money to stay.
He said: "We want to stay here. We'd rather pay the money to stay here. It will be the end of the market if it moves to Commercial Street. I have been there a few times and nobody's going to come down. If we go down there it's like killing ourselves."
Cllr Daniel Lister, WNC’s Cabinet Member for economic development, town centre regeneration and growth, said: “The council agrees with residents and businesses who believe the market is an important part of Northampton’s past, present and future.
"That is why we are investing millions of pounds of public money in a project to make the most of what we have and to give more people a reason to travel into our town centre. That includes high quality stalls for the traders.
"Doing nothing would have almost certainly continued the downward trend of historic markets which is seen across the country due to changing shopping habits.
"We believe Northampton’s beautiful and vibrant town centre has unrealised potential and would urge everyone to get behind our plans, help build upon that investment and give the town the future it deserves.”