The area in front of the Santander bank has previously been used by a florist and food stalls, who have been permitted to trade there by Stafford Borough Council. Now the authority is bringing in a £112 fee for using the area from January 1 2022.
Market Square is set to be revamped so it can host more events thanks to funding from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund.
But concerns have been raised that the new hire charge could discourage people from using the area for activities.
Councillor Angela Loughran, speaking at the latest full council meeting, said: “There has been a lot of hard work gone into the development of Market Square and efforts to encourage people into the town centre. But this charge for the hire of the area outside Santander I feel is becoming a deterrent.
“Surely, having the information given through to us about how we should encourage more life into the centre of our towns, to introduce a charge like this for use of this area of Market Square I would say is more of a deterrent than an encouragement.
“There is nothing in the column (of the fees and charges document explaining reasons for cost introductions and changes) to attempt to justify why we are putting in a charge for the hire of this area of Market Square.”
Councillor Frances Beatty, cabinet member for economic development and planning, responded: “I think all members are aware we have had a very substantial sum of money from the Government to regenerate the whole of the north end of Stafford (town centre).
“One of the first changes that the community will see is the work done on Market Square, which is going to include much better services for electricity, water supply and so on, so we can have much bigger and more complex events there.
“Part of the work being done is reviewing the area for hire as part of that exercise. The reconfiguration of the charges reflects the changes that are being made to the sites and the way the operators will be able to take advantage of what’s going on in the centre of town.
“I think you will find it is a positive, not a negative.”
Charges are already in place for hire of the whole of Market Square, with half and quarter rates available for commercial and not-for-profit activities if they only use part of the square. Currently hire of the Market Square display area costs £18 for charities, while prices range from £106 to £213 for not for profit activities and £213 to £415 for commercial activities.
Robert Simpson, the council’s head of operations, told a scrutiny committee meeting: “We will be introducing a charge in the area in front of Santander. For that fee someone can hire that area for an occasion.
“We have always given consents, not licences, which means we consent to people being there. For the consent there is a fee that needs to be paid. That is laid out in the fees and charges.”
Councillor Bryan Cross asked: “What happens when we have something like Walking Street or the Christmas event? Is that charged?
Mr Simpson responded: “It depends who’s looking to come in. If an event is being put on by the borough council or one of its partners then there wouldn’t be a charge. The council has the ability to waive the charge but generally that is the commercial rate if, say, a funfair wanted to come in.”