(Updated 4/4/12: 1610): Lancaster City Council will consider a progress report on Lancaster Indoor Market at next week's full Council meeting and consider options available on its future - which now might not see it close after all.
The possibility that the Market now might not close is however, not going down well with some traders still in the building, who had begun to make plans to move out, pending resolution of compensation negotiations for the loss of their leases.
This latest Council debate follows a resolution by Council last November that negotiations should take place with the owner of the building, Allied, to negotiate a surrender of the lease the council holds on the building - effectively meaning the Market would close.
In response, Allied outlined a number of options, which the Council summarizes as follows:
Proposal A: A joint redevelopment of the market building, with the council to bear the costs of the scheme, retain its lease but sublet to a single retailer.
Proposal B: A joint redevelopment of the market building to accommodate a single retailer, with the council to bear the costs of the scheme, and surrender of the council's lease.
Proposal C: Purchase of the freehold of the property contained in its lease by the council.
Proposal D: Surrender of the council's lease and any redevelopment undertaken by Allied.
Based on these proposals, options for the future of the market that Council will be asked to consider next week are:
Option 1: Continue negotiations with Allied on Proposals B and D, in line with the previous resolutions of Council and continue negotiations with Traders as appropriate.
Option 2: Seek an alternative solution to the previous resolutions of Council and continue negotiations with Allied on Proposals A and/or C, and continue negotiations with Traders where appropriate.
Council will be presented with the key risks and full financial implications of each of the options and proposals, but these are confidential in nature as they are commercially sensitive and are contained in an exempt report to Council.
The new proposals have had a mixed response from those market traders still in the building and negotiating compensation for their leases after the Council decided to close the Market.
"There has been very little contact with the traders since last year and negotiations only began a few weeks ago," market trader Chris Green told virtual-lancaster. "Lancaster City Council are paying the tenants considerable surveyors fees.
"I am not sure why the deal with Allied was not done before [closure] was announced to all, as this was a very bad business decision and put Allied in a very strong position.
"The Council have simply ignored any direct communication we have sent them," he says.
Many stalls are now unoccupied and the once-thriving Market is a pale shadow of its former self. With the Market looking set to be closed, some traders began the process of moving elsewhere (and many already had moved out in the face of ongoing uncertainty over the Market's future). Bay Pets is moving into premises on Common Garden Street soon and the electrical shop on the near-deserted top floor is soon moving to newly refurbished premises on King Street, opposite the Assembly Rooms.
"The idiotic decisions are destroying traders business and family lives," says Chris. "The councillors need to ensure that the resolution passed in November 2011 is adhered to and the compensation is paid to the traders.
"Some traders have already made massive financial commitments to trade elsewhere based on what information they have been given by the Council. The councillors also need to ensure that these officers are held to account.
"It was shortly before the main meeting in November that both councillors and officers told traders, including my partner that closure was 'definitely happening' and 'that everyone might not be happy with it but everyone has a price'."
"It has been a very hard time for traders and their families," adds Zoe Caldicott. "We fought closure in 2010 for council to resolve that it would stay open and investment would be made. A year later, no changes took place apart from spending money on fancy consultancy reports. When the last closure announcement was made in November 2011 traders have had to try and plan their futures.
"What the councillors do not seem to understand is that long term tenants are not hanging on to make a fast buck, relocating costs money and the financial risks involved are huge. Others are being forced into complete closure and therefore their livelihood ceases to exist.
"I would like to remind the council that if agreement is not made on the 11th April to compensate the traders and put an end to this emotional and financial torment, the traders will happily continue using their four year renewable leases.
"It is our view that it will only be with the traders consent if the Market closes or not."
The previous resolution by Council on Lancaster Indoor Market was taken at its meeting in November 2011 and is as follows:
(1) That, in light of the options outlined in the report and the information contained in the financial appraisals appended to the report on Lancaster Indoor Market, Council cannot support in the long term the continuation of the indoor market operation.
(2) That Members therefore request that officers negotiate both the terms of a surrender with the Landlord and, considering the timescales for that surrender, undertake negotiations with traders to seek early surrender of trader tenancy agreements offering assistance with relocation and/or suitable compensation as appropriate.
(3) That a further report be brought to members to consider the progress of the above negotiations and to establish a financial framework to allow subsequent implementation of the proposals.
(4) That the intention be for traders to be relocated to new trading premises and/or compensated, with a view to this being completed by the end of 2012.