Traders at flagship market hall hit with legal warnings from council landlords
Market traders at Barnsley’s new flagship Glassworks complex have been issued with solicitor’s warning letters after failing to trade for the six days set down in new lease agreements or packing up early on quiet trading days.
At the same time, Barnsley Council has also told members of the town’s group of the National Market Traders’ Federation that outside consultants are being called in help give the market hall’s image a face-lift, just months after it opened. Research by the Local Democracy Reporting Service has confirmed that Barnsley Council has written to eight traders, who have found themselves in trouble for failing to open their stalls for the full six days required under their leases for the new market hall, or for closing too early. Barnsley Council has declined to reveal the contents of those letters, because they follow a format which the authority pays to use, but the Barnsley group of the NMTF say they were sent from the council’s own solicitor, warning those receiving them were in breach of their lease. Group spokesman Kieron Knight said the problem resulted from poor trading levels leaving stallholders unable to pay staff, so having the option of working a six day week or leaving their business closed when few customers were expected. Barnsley Council dispute that and describe trade as “bustling”. The Glassworks market hall opened in the Autumn of last year, deemed a key element of the full complex, which is still under construction and will feature conventional shops and leisure outlets. But Mr Knight said traders have struggled with a stipulation which insists they open for a full six days’ trading, because customer levels did not justify such long hours. He is now expecting some to pull out of the venture when they are able to activate a ‘break clause’ in their contracts, after two and a half years. Mr Knight said: “The majority of traders are not happy about working Thursday, when there is no trade in the town.” Stallholders were also expected to remain open until 5pm, he said: “Again, they are not happy about it. Target customers have left by that time, after 2.30pm or 3pm customers are very thin on the ground. “There isn’t really an audience at 4.30pm or 4.45pm, the town is deserted. “It all impacts on their profits, hence why there are empty stalls. What should be the most exciting time in a generation for the markets is turning into a nightmare. “When people have a break clause after two and a half years, I expect some will take it because they cannot sustain six day working. They don’t have the trade to be able to afford staff. “They are not getting any quality of life,” he said. Markets management met with the Barnsley NMTF group this week, they were told the authority was calling in outside consultants to find ways to improve the market’s image, said Mr Knight. One area highlighted for attention was signage, but he said suggestions made by traders early in the process of creating the new market had been ignored. “How much will it be costing to pay for consultants?” he said, “This is taxpayers’ money they are spending. Traders made lots of suggestions about what they wanted to see.” The market hall is regarded as a lynchpin of the new development, with entrances thrust out to the main precinct, rather than being hidden behind shops as they had under the old arrangement. Barnsley Council was determined the town should keep its market, likening the new hall to a department store, when other towns and cities have seen theirs struggle to survive. Traders were also told the council is now also looking for a bar operator to take up a unit in the new ‘Market Kitchen’ food mall, which so far has three traditional cafes in place. The council’s aim is to create a varied selection of refreshments, offering healthy options, to help attract a wide range of visitors. Coun Roy Miller, Cabinet Spokesperson for Place, said: “We have a requirement to ensure that the market is operating consistently so that customers get the best possible experience of Barnsley Market. “This means that all of our traders open on the same days and at the same times and adhere to the market’s opening hours – an agreement they entered into with the council when they signed their leases. This is the same for all traders in the market, and is an approach that is supported and encouraged by the National Market Trader Federation. “The market is enjoying bustling trade. Footfall increased by ten per cent in December 2018 on the previous year. With more of The Glass Works set to open this year, including the new Market Kitchen, Library @ the Lightbox and café/restaurant Lounges, the market will continue to be busy. “We’d like to encourage people to continue to support our fantastic traders by shopping locally.”