(with thanks to various virtual-lancaster readers) As Lancaster City Council continues to ponder the fate of Lancaster Market - one year after councillors voted in droves to stop its closure and local people marched to keep it open - virtual-lancaster has learnt that more tenants are to leave, some fed up with its continued mis-management.
A meeting of city centre retailers will discuss the Market's future and other retail concerns tomorrow (29th March).
Gone from the Market in recent weeks is butchers Wilsons, a long established business which was bought by new owners about two years ago. The Chinese Food Stall is moving to Common Garden street in the next few weeks.
Also leaving is John Glassock's picture framing stall, with John now focusing on his shop on Sir Simons Arcade.
There are rumours circulating about another long-established business leaving too, but we have yet to confirm this.
The departures mean the Market will be at the lowest capacity than it has ever been once these next two leave. Market tenants Christopher and Roger Dean, owners of M Green and Son, say they have never seen it as empty - and their business is in its 49th year this year.
Part of the reason for these departures may be down to behind the scenes changes in the way Lancaster City Council charges rent on units. virtual-lancaster understands the Council are now issuing monthly bills instead of quarterly for rent and service charge from 1st April, which is worrying some tenants as it may weaken the stall holders' position under the Landlord and Tenants act. When paying quarterly the tenant must have six months notice to quit. If tennants are expected to pay monthly this may mean a reduction in notice required if payment is late.
Quaterly rents allow tenants a longer period to generate the sales needed to pay rent.
virtual-lancaster also understands that the new leases proposed by the Council are now being considered by the market tenants solicitor. One worrying part of the new lease, according to Roger and Christopher Green, is the 'break clause', which would allow the Council to move tenants into a building which would have much much smaller units (anything down to a pasting table).
Under the Landlord and Tenants Act, the Council would only be able to move them into 'suitable premises', ie units of a similar size. It would seem the only reason they have put this clause in is to get round the act by having tenants sign it away.
Once again, despite its public commitment to keeping the Market open, elements within the Council appear to be doung their utmost to make it unviable and some tenants are voting with their feet in response.
"It is a really worrying time," one stall holder told virtual-lancaster, "Especially since the museum idea started the market has got quieter.
"With these tenants leaving it creates an even larger deficit."
A Retailers Meeting will take place tomorrow (Tuesday 29th March) to discuss several options to boost trade, including the possibility of creating a Business Improvement District for the city centre, the possible re-location of the Market to the Museum building, the street market and potential promotion days.
• If you are a Lancaster city centre retailer and would like to attend the Retailers Meeting, call Paul at Joseph and Co on 01524 63981 to reserve your place.
• More about Business Improvement Districts at www.ukbids.org