COUNCIL chiefs are locked in a rent strike battle with Wigan market traders.
Almost 80 of the town’s indoor stallholders have teamed up with 30 colleagues from the outdoor market to withhold a third of the cash from their weekly rent.
And they pledged that the latest move in the increasingly bitter fight - which has been taken with the approval of their lawyers - will go on “indefinitely” until they win a fair settlement.
They claim it is a make or break move in a fight for survival in the face of plunging footfall in the lower part of the town centre because of the increasing success of The Grand Shopping Arcade at the top of Standishgate.
Wigan’s market traders have also now launched a national petition to highlight their plight – at www.change.org – under Wigan Market Rent Petition, as part of the campaign for “fairer” rents.
Council Cabinet member for the economy Coun David Molyneux, who acknowledged the partial rent strike, is now making arrangements to meet the traders to hear their grievances.
He said: “With the Boys’ Club development and the University Technical College now taking shape, the footfall in this part of town will soon be increasing significantly.”
Wigan Market Traders’ Federation chairman Mike O’Connor, who has hads sports shoe stall in the market hall for 21 years, said the rent strike decision hadn’t been taken lightly.
But he said traders were locked in a fight for our survival which couldn’t just depend on the council’s on-going assurances of new and improved signage to direct bargain-hunters to the market.
Or better promotion of the long-established facility to bring in customers from the surrounding towns.
Traders claim the council has ignored the findings of the report by shopping guru Mary Portas that the market should be “a vibrant public service at the heart of the town centre.”
They had warned market bosses that they were intending to take rent strike action a month ago in the hope of triggering a fresh round of contractual re-negotiations. But without success.
He said: “We have a solicitor on the case being funded by the traders and everybody, as far as I am aware, is now withholding a third of their rent after taking legal advice.
“We are not saying that we are not paying it or are never going to pay. But what we are doing it reacting to the facts established by the specialists who came in to look at Wigan Market who established that it around about 30 per cent more expensive than a lot of other markets up and down the country.
“For the past two years we have been trying to get the council to cut us some slack because there are people paying £500 a week for a stall desperately fighting to survive.
“When people like me came into the market around about 1990 I was also working around Manchester where I was paying £8 to £12 a day and then I came to Wigan and they hit me with £21.70 a day. But it was next to The Galleries, a nice new shopping centre, so I thought, it’s expensive but I will give it a go and even then I sometimes struggled to get on because there were no free stalls and it was so busy.
“There is no question that we have been relatively successful in our own small way and I have had a good run, but that all changed when The Grand Arcade opened.
“We all feared that it would give us a knock but may be not the size of knock that it has given us and The Galleries which are also now half empty as well with Boots, River Island and everybody else to go running across the road.
“With the demise of The Galleries and the closure of Mesnes Street car park, it has cut us off in a bid way and our footfall has dropped by at least 50 per cent over the past five years.”
Mr O’Connor said that they served notice on the council on October 4 that they were going to launch the rent strike unless the council re-opened negotiations over a “meaningful agenda” and not “yet more smoke and mirrors.”
But they only had a reply on Monday... and this, he said, failed to acknowledge their “totally genuine fears for the future.”
However derelict outdoor stalls have now been removed and the area thoroughly cleaned, after their pleas.