Sunday, 28 March 2010

Council's Cabinet discusses Lancaster Market options, new protest planned

Lancaster MarketLancaster City Council's Cabinet met last week to discuss a public report detailing the findings of the Cabinet Working Group set up to consider the future of Lancaster Indoor Market, which has an annual deficit of over £400,000 a year.

They in turn will report to Full Council which will meet this week (Wednesday 31st March, meeting details here), and campaigners again plan to march on Lancaster Town Hall to demonstrate their support to keep the Market open in some form.

Cabinet has been examining the issues surrounding the Market for a number of years, with no less than five reports and a series of recommendations, since January 2008.

In December 2008, Cabinet gave officers “approval to negotiate directly with retailers to try and procure a single retailer for the Market Hall on the basis that the preferred option would be that the current deficit is reduced to zero. Or, as an alternative, to report back to Cabinet should a single retailer be prepared to take up occupation of the Market Hall, on the basis of the Council contributing an amount that is less than the deficit currently being faced by the Council.”

The final report to Cabinet was in February this year and, as a result Cabinet made a series of recommendations to Full Council. After a huge protest against the proposal to close the Market - and controversy surrounding the choice of newcomer supermarket operation ASCO as a retail partner, a recommendation first kept from the public but later confirmed by the company itself - Council voted to set up a Cabinet Working Group, open to all Members of Cabinet, to consider all the options available on the market and the business plan from the market traders.

The group has met four times and the Council says it has "spent many hours listening to information and advice and asking questions, as well as discussing a number of issues and options for reducing the market’s significant cost to taxpayers".

In addition to hearing from the existing market traders, on three occasions, and the National Federation of Market Traders, the working group also gathered evidence from the National Association of British Market Authorities; Cushman and Wakefield (the agents hired by the council following an earlier Cabinet decision to find a retailer for the market); the strategic director of Blackburn with Darwen Council (which itself is undergoing changes regarding its market); Quarterbridge (specialists in the development of retail markets); and the Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce.

As a result three options have been produced for consideration by Full Council this week:

• Single retailer
• Market traders’ proposal
• Refurbishing the existing market

The details of each option have been set out in the public report to Cabinet (PDF link) and will be discussed at Cabinet.

Following the meeting a report will then be prepared for consideration by Full Council at a special meeting on 31st March which will be held at 6.00pm at Lancaster Town Hall.

• In related news, the partner of one of the market traders, Zoe Caldicott, has been so incensed by the controversy surrounding the closure plans that she has complained to Local Government Ombudsman about Lancaster City council's conduct. "This complaint has now been allocated to the relevant department," she reports via the Save Lancaster Market campaign page on Facebook.

"I have also filed a complaint with the Audit Commission (the people who protect the public purse) and the information is now being requested from the council. I am more than confident that the evidence provided will raise more than a few eyebrows." (You can read the full text of her complaint here)

Details of the Council Meeting and associated documents on the City Council web site
Details of the Save Lancaster Market demonstration (Facebook)

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