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Downham Market petition considered as councillors pledge bright future for the town



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Town councillors have responded to a market petition by stating they will stay in their positions with the intention of achieving better cooperation and a positive future.

During last night's full Downham Town Council meeting, a 'Save our Market' petition was presented by Trevor Pearce who said it boiled down to the arrangement of the market since it reopened after the first lockdown.

Mr Pearce told the meeting the petition started after alleged comments by councillor Alan Pickering to "get rid of the old traders", which was firmly denied. A couple also being "thrown off" the market caused campaigners to act.

Market Day at Downham on Saturday October 24, 2020. Picture: Paul Marsh
Market Day at Downham on Saturday October 24, 2020. Picture: Paul Marsh

He added: "The Covid rangers or whatever you want to call them was completely over the top as well as a lot of traders receiving warning letters. You know what is going on that kicked in the whole petition. Traders and townsfolk have signed the list which is as long as my arm.

"Taking Covid into account, the way the market has been run has seriously damaged business but it's the way the management of the market happened."

Mr Pearce also referred to people having to walk around the public toilets via Bridge Street to access the market entrance, which he believes put health and safety "out of the window".

The market petition ready to be presented at Downham Market on Saturday, September 26th 2020..Petition in hand with, Justin Lewis (left) and Mike Howard (right), along with other market supporters and residents. Picture: Paul Marsh
The market petition ready to be presented at Downham Market on Saturday, September 26th 2020..Petition in hand with, Justin Lewis (left) and Mike Howard (right), along with other market supporters and residents. Picture: Paul Marsh

He continued: "The whole atmosphere...well there is no atmosphere there because people are frightened to do anything and feel like they are standing on eggshells."

In response, mayor Becky Hayes said some of the criticisms aimed at the town council were based on a smear campaign and hearsay, while many who signed the petition did not live in Downham itself.

Mr Pickering said the route to access the market was the best option considering the borough council had suggested people walking up the High Street and along Bridge Street.

Downham Market mayor Becky Hayes
Downham Market mayor Becky Hayes

Councillor Jackie Westrop referred to people signing the petition online from as far as Kent, Gloucester and Gateshead, and criticised "vile, unpleasant and threatening" comments on the 'Save Our Market' Facebook page which impeded a constructive approach to the market.

She said one comment had been reported to the police on the basis of hate speech.

There was also confusion over the wording of the petition with councillor Jo Woodmin saying some residents had been "distraught" to learn they were signing for councillors to consider their position rather than merely 'saving the market'.

The petition had suggested calls for a vote of no confidence in the town council, but Mr Pearce said they were in fact asking for just the market committee to consider standing down as part of a fresh approach.

Councillor Charlie Pyatt said Downham should follow the Swaffham model of enabling traders to contribute ideas during meetings for the organisation of the market, and said the town council have handled it "appallingly".

After the mayor gave councillors the opportunity to consider their positions, councillor Cissy Lightfoot said she will do her best to improve and expand the market.

Mr Pickering added he was of the opinion the market should expand into the town square and said there was a need for a spirit of working together in the best interests of the town.

Councillor David Sharman added: "I have been on the market committee all the time and all we have tried to do is keep people safe on the market and our endeavour has been to keep the market going.

"I will stay on the committee so I can hopefully pull it around with the market traders. I understand they are unhappy and not earning money, but that is a part of Covid. The market committee is trying its very best for the market."

Councillor Jo Woodmin said new traders are coming to the market and there will be a new stall this weekend. She also said the new planters have been well-received.

Her proposals for a budget of £2,500 to publicise and promote the market, as well as for the Covid rangers to stay on the market until January, were approved.

Town clerk Elaine Oliver said the price of the rangers has never changed after councillor Pyatt quoted figures of £792 and £924. The clerk said the price is "exceptionally cheap" and those figures were most likely a bill for several weeks.

Councillor Doug Lawson voted against the rangers being extended until January, calling them a "complete waste of space".

A proposed alteration and variation of licence for off sale alcohol expanding from the Town Hall to include Town Square and Market Square was also approved.



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