Market traders to hold rent dispute talks

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WIGAN’S market traders locked in a dispute over rent have agreed to meet the local authority to discuss their grievances.

Stallholders had previously been given until the end of Saturday to agree to the council’s terms, which offered them a 15 per cent cut in rates until 2014, or face legal action to evict them from the market.

Although the Wigan Market Traders’ Federation had rejected the council’s terms, the local authority has not carried out its threat to begin removing the stallholders from the town’s market and said yesterday that the agreements were still on the table for traders to sign.

Representatives from the Wigan Market Traders’ Federation will meet senior officers from the council next Monday to try and find a way forward to end the impasse, which has now dragged on through two years of negotiations.

The stallholders have previously demanded a rent cut of double the amount proposed by the authority to bring Wigan in line with other markets in the North West, and many traders are already on a partial rent strike in protest at what they see as the town’s un-competitive pricing.

Although the council is keen to meet the traders at the negotiating table and end the battle over rates, it also pointed out many traders were now significantly in arrears and moves would have to be made to recover the money due to the severe budget cuts being faced by the local authority.

Steve Normington, Wigan Council’s director of economy, said: “After offering traders an unprecedented 15 per cent rent reduction, the new licence agreements have been produced.

“We are waiting to hear the views of traders and will be meeting with their representatives on Monday, December 10.

“We have put forward what we consider to be a good deal for all parties.

“We appreciate these are tough economic times, which is why rents at the market have not increased in five years and traders have been offered such a substantial rent reduction.

“However, Wigan Council is owed £130,000 from stallholders who have withheld their rent. At a time of serious financial constraint for the council, this situation cannot continue.

“Wigan is lucky to have a vibrant, busy town centre.

“The market plays an important role in the retail offer. We want to work with traders to ensure it has a successful future.”

However, independent councillor for Hindley ward Jim Ellis, who has been advising the traders during the dispute, said the meeting should be postponed until the New Year.

Coun Ellis said: “This is the busiest time of the year for the traders and they cannot really afford to be leaving their stalls.

“What the traders basically want is the means of how rents are arrived at reviewing, because at the moment you have to bid for a stall and have it accepted.

“They are looking to come to an agreement on a price per square metre with a variation subject to where the stall is placed in the market, and for an annual review of rents to take place with footfall taken into account.”

There have been particular problems with a fall-off in trade in the area of the market since the Grand Arcade opened. However, it is hoped that business will pick up on the market side of town once the Wigan Youth Zone and neighbouring University Technical College opens.