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Marketplace consultation described as “mishandled, lame and lacklustre”

Traders have accused Chesterfield Borough Council of carrying out a ‘mishandled, lame and lacklustre’ consultation on plans to revamp the town’s historic outdoor market.

Since the start of August, the authority has been urging people to have their say on what it describes as ‘ambitious’ proposals to breathe new life into the market, creating a ‘vibrant open-air shopping experience with new event space, seating and landscaping’.

Council chiefs say they have received a ‘strong’ response to the public consultation, which is due to end this weekend, and insist they will continue to have ‘in-depth and direct’ discussions with traders.

But traders Luke Povey, Simon Davidson and Steph Mannion have accused the authority of ‘avoiding sharing the full plans due to the controversial decision to remove many of the market stalls’ – and called for the consultation period to be extended.

In a letter sent to officials including Councillor Tricia Gilby, borough council leader, Huw Bowen, its chief executive, and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, the traders said: “The consultation has taken place across the peak of summer and in the aftermath of Covid-19, when visitor numbers to the town from both residents and tourists have been reduced.

“Despite this, the opportunities to comment and respond to the plans have been bizarrely limited.

“We discovered this week that physical copies of the plans have been placed in the Market Hall. There are four public entrances and one staff/venue entrance. The plans were disappointingly located at the staff/venue entrance with no advertising or promotional posters around the Market Hall, the market itself, nor indeed direct to traders.

“Further, the feedback and comment form is not located with the consultation documents but rather at a different customer service location across town.

“Traders were invited to comment on the plans, but it now emerges that the document physically placed in the Market Hall is a much larger and indeed much more detailed version. This has not been notified to either traders or, it seems, the public.

“Regular traders hold a legal written contract with the council for a numbered stall and have not been written to as contract holders to notify them of the plans, the proposals nor indeed a copy of the consultation document.

“There is a Markets Consultative Committee on which traders have representatives. They have not been provided with a copy of this enlarged consultation document.

“This may seem trivial and awkward but Chesterfield defines itself and indeed identifies as a market town – the first charter dates to 1204 – and yet what is a huge opportunity and a massive public investment into the market square is being handled badly, clumsily, across summer and in a manner that is arousing mistrust and suspicion.

“You could be forgiven for thinking that the council was avoiding sharing the full plans due to the controversial decision to remove many of the market stalls and was deliberately and consciously not sharing the detailed documents with traders, residents, shoppers and visitors.

“It is fair to say that the council has promoted the consultation on its social media – however, as you know, markets draw both in traders and customers from a very diverse and broad spectrum.

“Put simply this has been and remains a mishandled, lame and lacklustre consultation in both its sincerity and its execution.

“We are calling for an extension to the consultation period, a sharing of the full vision document and proactive engagement with traders by and from the politicians and officers driving this project.”

Councillor Howard Borrell, Chesterfield Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for town centre and visitor economy, also called for the consultation period to be extended.

He said: “Currently traders are mobilising to oppose the plans.

“These proposals are too important to rush – let’s ensure that the exhibition is widely promoted for, say, an extra fortnight and the people behind the plans take a market stall on the two busiest days and explain them in detail to the traders and the public.”

A borough council spokesperson told the Derbyshire Times: “Chesterfield market is the heart and soul of our town centre and, like us, people are rightly passionate about making sure it thrives for years to come. We thank our traders for the important role they play in our town, and they are very much part of our future.

“Our current plans were shaped following engagement with market traders and local businesses earlier this year and the proposals reflect what many told us they wanted to see – but we are still listening, and we will have further in-depth and direct conversations and engagement with our traders about some of the concerns they have raised, and how they see the market operating in future.

“We have already had a strong response to the wider public consultation, with more than 500 responses to date, and there is still time for people to have their say. Thank you to everyone who has commented on the plans so far – their views will help shape final proposals.

“The way people shop and enjoy town centres and markets is changing, and while we want to protect the history and great heritage associated with our market and market place, we need to make sure it remains a relevant and vibrant shopping experience that will be used and enjoyed by residents, visitors, market traders and businesses now and in the future.

“People can take part in the consultation at market-consultation.chesterfield.gov.uk or call 01246 936793 if they would like the information in a different format. Consultation material is also available to view in the Market Hall. The deadline for comments is September 12.”

 

Article originally appeared on the Derbyshire Times

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