Businesses call for talks over the future of town market

BUSINESSES have called for a high-level meeting with council bosses to discuss concerns about Morpeth market.

The request has come from the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade after several members complained about the appearance of the weekly market since the council stalls were abandoned.

Now traders must bring their own stalls, and erect them themselves, which means they are no longer uniform.

Market Manager Neil Brown said it is not viable for Northumberland County Council to put up and take down the stalls as it costs £250 for every event in staff overtime.

But confectioner Lynn Oxley said the authority still does that in Bedlington.

“My concern is that Morpeth gets treated as a premium place and we are there to generate income. It really concerns me because how does Bedlington do it?” she said.

“They have moved the market to the town centre.

“The town is just about on its knees as far as shop-based trade goes, but it has a market that is busy, while you wouldn’t walk through our market in Morpeth now.

“We are meant to be the market town for the county and we should get stalls from the county. It would be nice if the council spent some money and put some investment in for us as a community.

“I don’t think the stall rents cost more in Bedlington than in Morpeth, yet they manage to get these beautiful stalls. If it can be done there, why can’t it be done here?”

Mr Brown said it is unlikely the situation will continue in Bedlington in the long-term because of the cost.

Stall rents in Morpeth have recently halved from £40 to £20 as few traders were willing to pay the previous rate and it brings the town in line with other markets, but because of limited space in the Market Place it makes it more difficult to cover the cost of the council stalls.

Mr Brown said: “I don’t think it is going to be viable at all. It is not going to make a loss if it just a case of putting stalls up, but we have other costs to take into account. That doesn’t include my time or advertising costs or anything else.”

Coun Nic Best, who is Chairman of the Markets Partnership, added that the council stalls are now ten years old and would need to be replaced if they continued in use, but there is no funding to do that.

Chamber Chairman John Beynon said: “We are a market town and we want the best market possible. There have been some concerns that the quality isn’t as good now with the stalls, but we want to do everything we can to support the market.”

The concerns were raised at a meeting of the chamber after Mr Brown outlined the current situation at the market.

He said there are around 12 to 14 regular traders, selling a variety of goods that attract customers from across the North East.

However, he would ideally like more stalls each week and is encouraging Morpeth retailers to join the market, as well as looking into setting up special events such as a Christmas market or craft market.

“Most of the traders are happy that the rents are lower and it makes it easier to bring in traders to Morpeth. It is good for somebody who has never done it before to see if their goods are the goods that people are going to buy. It is a good place to start as an incubator for a business,” he said.

“One of the things I’m looking to do is to get the market up a bit. I would like to see 15 to 20 stalls there regularly on a Wednesday and 25 or more at a farmers’ market. That is my goal and if we can get more than that it would be fantastic.”

Mr Brown also said the Market Place is a good location for the event.

“The market is an integral part of the town. It works with the town and the town works with the market. It is an added attraction that works for everybody,” he said.