Anger as Stevenage council pulls plug on market

Market traders have criticised councillors for completing a ‘done deal’ behind their backs to evict them from a site some have operated on for over two decades.

Stall holders on the Stevenage outdoor market will cease trading on November 10 after a decision by the borough council executive on Tuesday night. The resident burger van has been offered a pitch in the town centre.

The move is part of a plan to improve the entrance way to the shopping centre from the railway station.

Traders, some of whom have operated on the twice-weekly pitch beside the bus station since it opened 23 years ago, are angry they were not consulted. Some only found out about the council’s intentions when the issue was highlighted in the Comet last week.

Terry Tompkins, whose watch stall opened on the first day of market trading in 1989, said the council intended to shut the site months beforehand but said nothing to traders who face losing their livelihoods just weeks before their busiest time of year.

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“It has been a very poor exercise in communication and I feel it was done that way purposefully so we couldn’t raise opposition.”

Letters were handed out to midweek traders last week, while Saturday traders found out in the press before getting theirs, Mr Tompkins added.

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“There were people out three weeks ago measuring up. The council already had these plans in place. They could have taken us into a meeting and discussed options with us.

“It’s just cold-hearted – ‘you’re finished’.”

Clothes seller Hardegh Singh, who has also been on the site since it opened, said all the traders feel angry about it.

“We don’t know where to go now. It’s the run-up to Christmas. There’s no way we will get a space anywhere. Many of my customers have said ‘don’t go’ – they want us.”

Fruit and veg seller, Ali Ahmed said he does not know what to do but does not want to go onto benefits.

“I’m angry and all my customers are angry. It’s not fair. If I move from here, there’s no jobs. I have a family. Ten years I’ve lived here, I’ve never been on benefits.”

A council spokesman said the decision will enable money to be spent on aesthetic improvements funded by a �100,000 High Street Innovation Fund grant.

She added: “While it was successful in the past, the market has been in decline for many years. Currently, the two trading days see an average of six stalls.

“Traders have been invited to develop a business plan for a co-operatively-run market in an alternative location. Where it can, the council will help in identifying such a location.”

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