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Council insists it has 'no intention to close market' in Downham Market following trader's claims

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Downham Town Council has dismissed claims it is trying to “run down” its market, which reopened for trading last week.

Traders were allowed to return to the market on the town hall car park last Friday for the first time in months due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The council said five regular traders were invited to return to sell their food and drink products last week, but just two took up the offer.

Downham Market's market reopens on Friday, June 5, 2020. Picture: Phoenix Events (36238331)
Downham Market's market reopens on Friday, June 5, 2020. Picture: Phoenix Events (36238331)

One of the traders who did not return, who asked to remain anonymous, said this was because it was not “viable”.

They said, over a normal Friday to Saturday market period in the town, they could serve around 1,500 people, but as the market had re-opened on reduced hours of 9am to 1pm on a Friday, they would only be able to serve a fraction of this amount.

“We didn’t turn up because four hours on a one-day market is never going to be viable, that was the only reason we didn’t turn up,” they said.

Downham Market's market reopens on Friday, June 5, 2020. Picture: Phoenix Events (36238340)
Downham Market's market reopens on Friday, June 5, 2020. Picture: Phoenix Events (36238340)

“We are never going to serve enough customers to make it work.”

They said they believed there were restrictions in place which would only allow 20 people on the market at any one time and just two people to queue per stall,

“It was just too restrictive and it’s not going to work. That’s why the traders think four hours isn’t worth it,” they added.

“I have heard rumours that half the council want the car park for paid parking and the other half are fighting to keep us there.

“We have a royal charter dating back hundreds of years, so the market can’t go until we are all off.

“If it is killed off, it will kill Downham Market – it will just be Downham, with no market.”

The trader added: “I’m hoping and praying that they will open the market up more.”

Elaine Oliver, clerk at the town council, dismissed the claims that the market was being “run down” with the aim of closing it.

She said: “The rumours are rumours, I can’t tell people any more that we have no intention to close the market.

“We encourage the market, but we have had to shut it due to coronavirus and we are re-opening in a safe manner.”

Ms Oliver said, at current, they can fit five stalls on the town hall car park, due to Government and insurance regulations.

“We have had to do it as a phased opening, and, in line with other markets, we will be extending that as we go on,” she added.

“We have put it out on Facebook – we want to change the market and make it bigger.”

Ms Oliver said they had brought in an external company, Phoenix Events East Ltd, to assist with the running of the market, by providing barriers, marshals and signs to ensure social distancing measures were adhered to.

“They did get abuse and we had to call the police on Friday,” she said.

“We are paying out extra money for the market to continue – why would we be doing this if we wanted it to close?”

The market is due to return for the second time today, from 9am to 1pm. Ms Oliver said it would be run in the same way as it was last week, but town council officials will review it next week.

“If Government guidelines change, we might do it differently,” she said.

“At the moment we have to have the social distancing to protect people.”

Ms Oliver added: “We certainly don’t want to kill off or run down the market.”

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