Market at risk as rent increase branded 'slap in the face'
- Credit: Lizzie Knight Photography / George Thompson
Norwich market traders have warned of an uncertain future after City Hall announced it was hiking their rent by 8.3pc.
Stall owners were told they would be hit with an increase in May, adding hundreds of pounds to some bills each month.
The move has been criticised by traders, who argue that it is another additional cost while they're trying to overcome pandemic pressures, increasing prices for stock and a cost of living crisis putting people off spending money.
But the council says the extra £38,000 generated each year by the increase will go to keeping services going in the city.
Josh Worley, a market stall owner, said: "At the end of the day it's a massive amount of extra money that these independent businesses will have to pay, so it's inevitable that the cost will have to be passed on.
"Ultimately that might mean that some of them are no longer viable.
"This is a slap in the face that cannot go unchallenged."
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Mr Worley, who sells natural products such as soaps from the Water and Earth stall, said he had been expecting a rent increase but not one so large.
The council is allowed to raise rents in line with the retail price index (RPI) - a measure of inflation - but for several years it has opted to raise it below that.
Mr Worley argued it would have been a less bitter pill if the money was being reinvested in the market, to make it a more welcoming place for visitors.
A petition he set up objecting to the rise has been signed by 75 market traders.
Mr Worley added: "We are a united front of independent traders, as we have been for almost a thousand years.
"They are taking us for granted."
Sam Bircham from Birchley's Loose Leaf Tea echoed Mr Worley's concerns.
He said: "It will make a big difference over the course of the year, especially when we are also facing increased energy bills and [other cost increases].
"I'm concerned, not really for myself, but what it means for others here.
"And long term if others close that would reduce footfall which will have a knock-on impact on us.
"It's a short-term monetary gain that doesn't look at the long-term health of the market."
Ray Harvey from Harvey's Cards said now was not the right time to increase bills while the market was still trying to recover from Covid.
"The council see that there are a lot of people there and they think everyone is busy but they are not," he said.
"You've got inflation, retail still hasn't recovered from Covid, there are some people here running at 20 or 30pc below 2019 takings - it's a big drop."
Tom Loudon from Substrata said the market acts as a tourist attraction and if costs are pushed up it could drive people away from visiting, especially while they are already struggling.
"When you are a small business it's always quite volatile, rent goes up, transport goes up, distribution, packaging and somewhere in there you are trying to keep your product affordable and make a living."
Green councillor Jamie Osborn called on the council to reconsider the increase and support market traders.
He said: "The market is the jewel in the Norwich crown, it brings people into the city and it supports sustainable businesses.
"It's a really difficult time, the pandemic was a difficult time for traders, a lot are self-employed and didn't get furlough, now they are getting hit terribly with a rent increase.
"If the council wants to bring people back into the city it needs to support local businesses - the market is the heart of Norwich and has been for a thousand years."
Adam Giles, city council cabinet member for Norwich market, said the authority understands the financial challenges facing market traders and all businesses in the city.
“There has been no RPI increase for market stall rental between 2016 and 2021 and we have maintained the service charge at the same level as last year.
“The council is under significant financial pressure and needs to maintain and improve the services it provides to the most vulnerable in our community.
"These pressures simply will not allow us to reverse the rent increase.”
Mr Giles insisted footfall in the city remains strong and the council work with traders to make it as attractive as possible to ensure future success.