Market traders fear council "vendetta" ahead of revamp proposals

Market traders fear council bosses are trying to force them out by increasing rent ahead of proposals to revamp the outdated building.

Dave Jones, from D Jones Shoe Repairs, behind a makeshift screen
Dave Jones, from D Jones Shoe Repairs, behind a makeshift screen

Sandwell Council is set to reinstall rates at West Bromwich Indoor Market in August to those of pre-coronavirus levels - plus adding an extra two per cent on top.

But stall holders labelled the proposals "sinister and insensitive", while West Bromwich East MP Nicola Richards urged Sandwell Council to reconsider its plans.

Empty aisles at West Bromwich Indoor Market

Dave Jones, 63, from Wolverhampton, who runs D Jones Shoe Repairs, said: "Traders think it is a vendetta from the council to get us out.

"We think they are trying to get rid of us one by one, so they can close market down. This is so they won't have to find us somewhere else to go, while we are trading.

"They are trying to build a new market. It was supposed to be in the same place [as this one]. It was supposed to be knocked down.

"In the last meeting we had [with the council], they actually had drawings of the property they were going to build."

He added: "There was no need to put it up two per cent as soon as we came back. I'm just trying to keep myself above water.

"A lot [of traders] come along and say 'Dave what do you think?' and I say 'probably the same as you. It is disgusting'."

Covid-19 coverage:

Four stalls have reportedly closed since market traders returned in June following the Covid-19 outbreak. Two reportedly shut before the pandemic.

Mr Jones said stalls are shutting down "left, right and centre".

In defending its move, Sandwell Council said some traders have been given £10,000 Government grants, amid the pandemic, to stay afloat.

The council's leader, Maria Crompton, said this was the equivalent to two year's worth of rent.

However Mr Jones dismissed this claim, saying he pays £700 rent per month while others pay up to £2,000.

Another disgruntled trader is Dave Griffiths, 49, from Wednesbury, who has been at the market for more than 30 years, like Mr Jones.

Mr Griffiths has ewritten a letter to council bosses expressing his concerns over the proposed increase.

Dave Griffiths, from Dave's Pets

He told the Express & Star: "It is unbelievably insensitive from the council when you consider how things are on the high street at the moment.

"There is no consideration with us at all. What makes it worse they have actually reduced our hours.

"What they can't see is, if we can't survive, there is not going to be any long term future.

"Perhaps that is what they want. I don't know whether they want the building to sell it to a developer or they are trying to force us out.

"It feels like something more sinister is going on."

Ms Richards, West Bromwich's MP, visited the market this month to hear the plight of traders.

West Bromwich East MP Nicola Richards

She said: "I think it is completely inappropriate for the council to increase the indoor market traders rent at this time.

"Retail has been hard hit by the coronavirus and a rent increase now would impact on traders who are slowly getting back onto their feet.

"I would urge Sandwell Council to reconsider this decision."

Sandwell Council leader Maria Crompton

In response to the Express & Star's story, Sandwell Council leader, Councillor Maria Crompton, said: "We are aware of the very difficult trading conditions all retailers, including market traders, are having to endure in the Covid-recovery phase we are now going through, which is why the council took the decision at the beginning of the lockdown period to waive all market fees on all of our markets because of that - including the indoor market even though the council still had to maintain the security of the building.

"We have stored stock on site for traders and supported them in operating home-delivery services where they could. The council was still incurring costs throughout this period but we took the decision not to pass those costs onto market traders.

"The vast majority of indoor market traders have received a £10,000 grant to help with their business costs during the pandemic, which, in some cases, is equivalent to more than two years' rent.

"We hope that has been of help and meanwhile the Council continues to bear the costs of operating the markets service.

"We have always taken the approach that we work with our traders – and this was always a response to an emergency situation, and, in the light of this, I would hope that most traders would understand that they need to start paying their rent again now that they are open for business. That was the purpose of the £10,000 grants.

"The Covid-compensation the Government has so far given to Sandwell Council is significantly less than the total economic loss we have suffered.

She added: "In terms of the future for the indoor market, the council is still progressing its redevelopment plans to create a new modern facility that will give market traders the opportunity to thrive in the post-Covid retail environment."

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