Anger over rent rise for summer at town market

Veteran Morpeth market trader Colin Hetherington, with fellow trader Andrew Martin in the background.
Veteran Morpeth market trader Colin Hetherington, with fellow trader Andrew Martin in the background.

Wednesday market traders in Morpeth believe a rent increase for the summer period is unfair and another hurdle for young entrepreneurs.

The charge is £25 per unit per week and they have called on Northumberland County Council to justify why it is more expensive than other places – for example, it is currently £15 per unit in Ashington.

One of the traders, Andrew Martin, said: “The rents are too high here and the council is trying to squeeze as much money out of us as possible.

“The summer holidays are not the busiest time for us, so there’s no justification for putting the rent up by £5 during this period.”

Abdul Salam, who trades at markets across the North East, said: “Markets are a breeding ground for young entrepreneurs, giving them the first step on the rung of the ladder.

“The rents need to be lower in Morpeth to give these youngsters the chance to start up their own business, establish themselves and then grow – they can’t afford them at the moment and that is why there is a lack of young people operating stalls at this market.”

Veteran trader Colin Hetherington is currently paying £50 for his space in Morpeth. He mentioned the rent reduction to £15 in January and February, but says it does not balance out as he and others are not there every week during those months.

He has other concerns, saying: “We need a dedicated person at the market each time it runs. At the moment, the county council is having to pull workers away from grass cutting to collect the rent.

“This person would then report any incidents or accidents because it’s our responsibility to report them at the moment, which I think is wrong.

“We’ve put forward our views to the council, including its Northumberland markets manager Neil Brown, but it has been frustrating as they don’t want to consider any of our points.”

Fellow trader Tony Cooper added: “We could do with new sheeting for the gazebos as they are coming to the end of their useful lives.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “The county council wants to build effective working relationships with its market traders and will be organising a meeting with Morpeth traders to discuss the concerns that some of them have raised about their rents and the impact this may have on attracting young entrepreneurs to the market.

“Council-run markets in Northumberland have different pricing structures, in part reflecting the different origins of each market. The council acknowledges markets across the UK have been experiencing tough trading conditions in the last few years, similar to those in wider retail sector.

“In recognition of this, we have not changed the pricing structure or increased rents for Morpeth Market since 2015.

“Before 2015, the pricing structure for a single stall was £20 for a number of years and in 2015 there was a proposal to increase this standard price.

“During consultation with traders, it was proposed that any increase should not be applied at a flat rate across the year but reflect seasonality, with a reduction being offered during very quiet winter months.

Following this feedback, the council amended its proposal so that rents stayed at £20 for seven months of the year, went up to £25 for three months each year during July, August and September and were reduced again to £15 during January and February when trading conditions are typically tougher.

“This pricing structure was implemented and became the fee structure for Morpeth. Charges were levied in this way consistently in 2015 and 2016, but as a result of infrastructure works affecting footfall on the market during summer 2017, the council temporarily waived the additional £5 usually charged between July and September.

“It was made clear to traders that this was a temporary measure for that year only and that the £25 period would be reintroduced this year.

“The council is committed to supporting young entrepreneurs start their first business and run a number of teenage markets each year to give young people the experience of what it is like to be a market trader.

“Rent incentives are available to any young people wanting to try market trading for the first time. For more details, email castlemorpethdepot@northumberland.gov.uk”