Councilors have been accused of ignoring public opinion by agreeing to scatter Canterbury’s historic market across an area spanning half-a-mile.
The break-up of the popular attraction will see traders dispersed to 41 street pitches scattered across the city centre.
The move, which will come into effect next January, was rubber-stamped at a cabinet meeting last night – despite staunch opposition from existing stallholders and residents.
Critics blasted the council’s ambition to push forward with its vision in the face of a fierce backlash from the public during a consultation about changes to the market, which is thought to have been operating in Canterbury for almost 700 years.
Results from the survey shared with councillors last night – show how a large portion of do not want the market to be broken up, and would rather have stalls grouped together in one hub.
But the authority “ignored” the opinions and unanimously voted through the decision to create pitches across the city centre.
Rather than be centered in one location, traders are to be offered stalls in four different zones – stretching from St Dunstan’s and Station Road West, up to Guildhall Street and the top end of the high street.
Speaking at last night’s debate, Labor leader Dave Wilson said: “There was clear desire from people in the consultation that the site’s should be grouped together in one location – that’s been ignored.
“People objected to the current market being disbanded – that’s been ignored.”
The Tory-led council, however, believes the market reshuffle can “create a really vibrant atmosphere” and boost the city’s offering.
Leader Ben Fitter-Harding defended the scheme, stressing how it will “enhance look and feel” of the city.
“I don’t agree with the various comments I have heard about spreading the market around,” he said.
“This doesn’t intend to spread any market anywhere. This is about street trading.
“What it does provide is clusters of pitches that will be very attractive and very effective at providing goods.”
Much of the dismay from objectors surrounds the break-up of the market, yet Cllr Ashley Clark told the council chamber how various stalls were scattered across different areas in medieval times.
“It’s impossible to please people all of the time,” he said.
“We betray those we serve if we surrender to every opinion that comes before us. We have to make decisions.
“There has been considerable change over the years, and there will always be change.
“There is nothing wrong with change. It means opportunity, and we should grasp that opportunity and challenge.
‘It’s impossible to please people all of the time…’
“It’s not going to spread shotgun-fashion and be scattered. The pitches are being placed in very commercially important areas, so there should not be any great disadvantage.”
Cllr Clark hopes the redesign will reduce the level of “tat” on offer at existing stalls.
As it stands the council has a net income budget of £80,700 for street trading, although the figures for the past five years have been below target, with the prediction for 22/23 being £66,200.
The council says dispersing the market “may result in a temporary drop in income, although [it is] anticipated to create an increase in the long-term”.
Speaking to KentOnline earlier this week, Cllr Fitter-Harding said he was confident the change will be a success and that interest in the newly created pitches is high.
“We’ve already had great interest through the consultation and will market the remaining pitches,” he said.
“A wide variety of traders will be welcomed and we intend to provide gazebos and stalls to help elevate the experience and assist previous market traders, for example, who may not have a suitable stall to use.
“These will complement the street traders who already have approved stalls or trailers.
“The offering will include fruit and veg, coffee, local and international food, desserts, plants, clothing and accessories.
“The reinvigoration of the city’s street trading adds yet another reason for residents and visitors to spend time in the city, enjoying the fayre and trying new things.
“We’re not expecting a significant income change – the priority is curating an interesting and footfall-driving street trading experience that is an asset to the district.”
Those who took part in the public consultation were asked how the council could improve the appearance of street trading in the city.
The top answer was for all stalls to adhere to the same visual standard, and the second most common suggestion was for all of the pitches to remain in the same place.
Steve Bamber, chairman of Canterbury Market Traders Association, previously told KentOnline how the plan to “banish” his stallholders will harm the allure of the city for loyal customers.
In the consultation, Kingston Parish Council echoed Mr Bamber’s fears, stressing how elderly visitors to Canterbury will be impacted.
“A lot of rural villagers attend the market by bus, as there are no train services,” it said in a statement.
“To place stalls as far away from the bus station as Westgate Towers would mean some shoppers being unable to purchase the items they want to.”