Market traders who have kept their stalls open throughout the coronavirus pandemic have slammed the council – after being told to cough up 12-weeks of unpaid rent.
Around six stalls remained open at Stoke Market during the lockdown and they say they were never told they would have to pay any rent as trade and footfall dropped by more than 50 per cent.
But last week they were asked for the last three months’ rent as well as their latest rent ahead of more traders returning to the market from Wednesday, June 17.
Now Stoke-on-Trent City Council appears to have relented in the face of the criticism and given the six affected traders a 75 per cent discount on the last three months’ rent.
But traders believe they should not have to pay a penny – and want a grace period for returning stall-holders.
It comes as neighbouring Newcastle Borough Council has given its stall-holders a six-week rent-free period.
Say Cheese owner Andrea Machin, who stayed open at Stoke Market, said: “About six of us stayed open and now the council has told us it wants 12-weeks in back rent and then full rent from now on.
“The council says it sent somebody down here during the 12 weeks who said it was busy. Well it might have been busy for the 10 minutes they were here but we’ve been here the whole time and footfall has been half what it was and takings are at least half what they were.
“Now they want to hit us with 12-weeks back rent – it’s a lot of money. We’re trying to support the market and we were being penalised for it.
“We’re still not running at full capacity because you are only allowed so many customers in at a time and there are no toilets or cafes. So how can they expect full rent?”
Pet stall owner Jim Doolan’s family has traded on the market for 45 years.
He said: “I feel unsupported. I’ve been trading for the last 12 weeks with a handful of other traders just trying to keep the market open and we weren’t told we would have to pay full rent back. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have stayed open.
“Our expenses have doubled because we’ve had to start a delivery service for those who are self-isolating.
“I want the council to waive the last 12 weeks back rent and for all returning traders, including us, we want six weeks free rent to get back on our feet like other councils.”
Stoke Market is now open from 9am to 5pm on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The council have now announced a 75 per cent reduction for traders who stayed open during lockdown.
Cllr Abi Brown, leader of the city council, said: “We absolutely understand how difficult it has been for businesses during the lockdown and really appreciate traders who have remained open at Stoke Indoor Market and continued to provide a valuable service to residents during this time.
“From speaking to the traders, some have reported good business over the last three months but clearly it has been a difficult period for others.
“We have brought forward a series of measures to help and support market traders across the city, including them not paying rent if they have been closed or are still unable to trade.
“Stoke Indoor Market was the only market in the city to remain open throughout this period, and we’ve agreed the traders will only pay 25 per cent of their normal rent up to June 15.
“We hope this reduction, combined with making parking free on our car parks across the city for the rest of June, will help the traders and indeed all businesses in the city as the industry begins on the road to getting back on its feet.”