The end of Dunstable market?

Dunstable Market Traders are unhappy at the council's decision
Dunstable Market Traders are unhappy at the council's decision

History was made on Monday as Dunstable Town Council washed its hands of the running of the market, requesting all traders apply for a street trader’s licence from Central Bedfordshire Council.

During a meeting of the town council’s finance and general purposes committee on Monday, it was agreed to withdraw from the management of the market from February 1, 2018.

Although a street trader’s licence is considerably less expensive at £409 per annum compared to the existing stall rental fees of £2,500, some traders feel they have been left to fend for themselves.

“There’s not one piece of security for us at all,” said trader Terri Rylands. “My family have been on that market for 62 years. I’m very, very angry because we have had no say and we’ve really tried.

“With a street trader’s licence, if CBC don’t like where we’ve set up for whatever reason they can come up and tell us to move.

“There is no security in that.”

The move follows a spate of difficulties in the management of the market, which has seen a high turnover of council staff and fraught relations with traders.

A town council spokesman said: “The council has been experiencing a range of ongoing operational difficulties in providing services for the market, mainly due to continuing unsuccessful recruitment attempts for market staff. A number of market traders have been very vocal in their criticisms of the council.”

Press and public were barred from the discussion during Monday’s meeting. Trader Tyrone Bird said the traders waited for two hours before being told the outcome by town clerk David Ashlee.

On announcing this decision, Mr Ashlee stated: “I am pleased that the council was able to ensure that a new market of street traders will keep a general market going in Dunstable.

“Whilst I accept that this decision might not be popular with a minority of existing traders, I feel the decision was in the best interests of all Dunstable residents and council tax payers.”

The council claims that street traders will have more control over the market.

But Mr Bird said: “That is poppycock, we will have no control whatsoever; it will go back to Central Bedfordshire Council. It won’t even be a market in theory.”

The town council has subsidised the market ever since the charter was handed over from Central Beds Council in 2012, with a net expenditure of £44,300 this financial year and £38,864 in the previous year.

Second-hand stalls will be offered to the traders for setting up, which will be stored in the current compound, as well as a free waste collection service.

Neighbouring Leighton Buzzard was also handed the charter for its market in 2012 and it continues to be subsidised by its town council.

Darren Eastman, vice chairman of the market traders, slated Dunstable Town Council’s “dismal record”.

He said: “The council fails to say who will manage the market under the new hands off policy. Who will manage the bins? Who will keep the lock-up safe? Who will new traders contact?

“Formerly , if they wanted a stall they could book one that week. Now they will have to go through the long winded rigmarole of obtaining a street traders licence.

“The council was presented with a petition of over 800 signatures collected in only a couple of days or so. It ignored it. The market traders lack confidence in the council’s judgement and in its willingness to listen to its own traders and the public at large. Instead, the Council has chosen, like Pontius Pilate, to wash its hands of the problem.”