Market traders in rent arrears months after Barnsley’s prestige new venue opens
A third of traders at Barnsley’s new flagship market hall were in debt with their council rent bills within months of the Glassworks complex opening, it has emerged, with almost a fifth of the cash due to the council remaining unpaid.
The figures put increased focus on the performance of the Glassworks market, which is regarded as a pivotal component of the £180m transformation of Barnsley town centre.
Since traders moved in last November, tensions with Barnsley Council have increased amid complaints of poor trading and the council’s insistence that the market mirrors the opening hours of neighbouring shops.
Figures for the period from early November to the end of July show the council was expecting income of £603,027 in stall rents – money needed to help cover the costs of the development – but only £486,457 had been paid.
While 54 traders were up to date with their rents another 28 were behind, with speculation from the National Market Traders Federation Barnsley that some businesses simply lack the income to settle their bills because of poor turnover.
Barnsley Council has insisted footfall at the market is strong, however.
Now an opposition councillor has expressed “grave concern” about the way the market functions.
Council officials recently took the decision to halve rents for traders in the upstairs section of the market, in response to complaints about poor trade, but that move has caused division with some of those who will not benefit from the change staging a protest last week.
Leader of the Lib Dem group, Coun Hannah Kitching, said: “I am gravely concerned about the situation with the market traders and the market itself, clearly things are not working.
“Having to drop rents is an admission that things are not working and halving the rent for traders upstairs is the wrong strategy and is proving divisive, causing a lot of upset among the traders.
“Many have been trying to tell the council for months that they are struggling,” she said and suggested a smaller drop in rent for all traders would have been more appropriate.
Keiron Knight, the NMTF Barnsley group spokesman described the cut to rents as “the latest knee jerk reaction” from the council to problems with the market.
“Barnsley Council has now clearly stated upstairs in the Glassworks is the worst trading area in Barnsley, hence the rent reduction.”
The shortfall in rental income would have to be made up with money from the taxpayer, he said.
“The 28 traders who owe a combined debt of £116570.00 up to the end of July must be really concerned but we don’t know what percentage are upstairs and how many are downstairs.”
Mr Knight said stallholders had signed up to five year leases with the council, with a break-clause part way through the contract.
“It will be interesting to see how Barnsley Council, who constantly claim to be socially responsible proceed at the break clause, weather they terminate these traders or allow them to continue trading until the individual debts are so large they will have debt collection companies at their doors.
“As the NMTF group keep highlighting all is not lost yet, a change of management a new team committed to working with the NMTF group and the traders and we all think Barnsley market could return to being one of the best markets in the country,” he said.
Tim Cheetham, Cabinet Spokesperson for Place, said: “The council regularly monitors the debt position within the market and works to support individual traders where required.
“After recent feedback from traders followed by a consultation over rent, we have implemented a 50 per cent rent reduction for traders on the first floor of the market.
“Ground floor traders also have the option to move to the first floor if they wish to take advantage of the discount.
“The rent reduction will not only help support traders on the upper level, but also help attract new businesses into the market to ensure it continues to be a vibrant shopping destination.
“As a responsible landlord, the council will assess and speak to traders in debt on an individual basis as we edge towards the three year break clause. These matters are not for discussion in the media.
“The market will be supported by the addition of new operators in Market Kitchen this October, which promises to be an exciting addition to the market, wider Glass Works and town centre.
“As always, I would like to encourage the people of Barnsley to continue to support our fantastic traders and brilliant market by shopping locally.”
*Barnsley’s new town centre food court in the Glassworks retail centre will expand from hosting only traditional market cafes to a host of internationally-themed outlets over the next few weeks.
The Market Kitchen has been open for months but has been occupied only by three cafes from the previous market while regeneration work has continued on the building.
Through October a series of new businesses will start trading, selling food with flavours from India, south-eastern Europe, Thailand and Italy.
Others will follow, taking the total to 12 outlets, including the three existing traditional cafes.
The eating area will be revamped with a mix of seating options and modern decoration, to create what Barnsley Council describe as the “go to place in Barnsley town centre”.
Coun Tim Cheetham, Cabinet spokesman for Place, said: “We’re excited that the new businesses will bring something completely different to our town centre. They will make Market Kitchen a unique offer and make it the ideal location to eat, drink, socialise and unwind.”