Market set to close

PUBLISHED: 12:51 28 August 2008 | UPDATED: 16:32 05 May 2010

AN INDOOR market which has been established for 30 years will close after a controversial planning application was given the go ahead last week. More than 2,000 people signed a petition against Vale Retail s plans to close Letchworth GC s Market Hall in G

AN INDOOR market which has been established for 30 years will close after a controversial planning application was given the go ahead last week.

More than 2,000 people signed a petition against Vale Retail's plans to close Letchworth GC's Market Hall in Garden Square Shopping Centre to make way for Argos, which is relocating from Leys Avenue.

But North Herts District Council's planning control committee granted permission for external alterations to the existing market hall and former bingo hall, following the demolition of retail units to the rear of the market hall, as well as a two-storey extension and the construction of loading bays.

Four councillors voted in favour of the planning application, two voted against, and five abstained.

Market trader Andy Macaulay, who owns Carmac Mobility, said: "To be honest I'm absolutely gutted, but I'm not surprised.

"I don't think anyone has any perception of the effect it's having on us. It's been a nightmare."

Cllr John Booth, who represents Letchworth South East, voted in favour of granting planning permission.

He said: "Our hands were tied. We had to take account of planning law and there was no obvious case I could see for rejecting the application on planning grounds.

"The owner could have taken us to appeal, which we would have to pay for, and we would probably have lost."

But Cllr David Levett, who represents Letchworth South East, voted against the planning application, claiming it goes against the Letchworth Town Centre Strategy.

One of the strategy's policies is to "provide for a fuller range of local retail and service needs... with a rich and varied mix of stores of different sizes, both national chains and local independent operators."

Cllr Levett said: "The strategy forms part of our planning process and we should stick by what we set out in that. I'm disappointed the application got through."

Cllr Michael Paterson, who represents Letchworth East, abstained from voting.

He said: "I felt the proposal coming before us was not in the best interest of fulfilling the town centre strategy.

"I wanted a bit more debate around the issue so that's why I abstained."

Mr Macaulay said: "I'm so angry. There were four or five councillors speaking in favour of turning down the application but they didn't actually vote. They voiced their opinions but they didn't use their vote."

The market hall is expected to close this year, with eight stallholders saying they will lose their livelihoods.

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