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Traders and town council clash over Christmas fayre plans

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Bishops Stortford Christmas Fayre
Bishops Stortford Christmas Fayre

Town councillors said"bah humbugto traders' request to hold next year's Christmas fayre on a Sunday.

At Monday’s full council meeting, business representatives outlined their wish for goodwill to all retailers – not just visiting market traders.

The authority insists on holding the festivities on the first Saturday in December – while elsewhere across the country communities support their town centre retailers on Small Business Saturday.

Instead of a bumper trading day at the start of Advent, many traders have reported a drop in taking or disruption for customers as a result of the town council’s fayre.

When businesses belonging to the 60-strong Uniquely Stortford Retail group protested in February after 2016’s fayre resulted in the town council siting rival stalls outside shops, channelling customers away from retailers and even barricading off some premises, they were told it was already too late to change plans for December 2’s event, but their concerns would be considered as part of planning for 2018.

On Monday the founder of the group, Karen Burton, of Karen’s Cakes, Northgate End, told the council compromise was essential: “Bishop’s Stortford Town Council does not own the high street, it is not yours to come in and take over at will whenever the mood takes you without proper consultation with the businesses that have invested their time and money 365 days of the year and on which their livelihoods depend.”

Traders recognised the fayre’s feelgood factor, but Mrs Burton argued the fayre did not benefit businesses and was detrimental to many because of the traffic problems it causes - services such as salons report substantial disruption to appointments.

She said: “The footfall generated comes primarily for the market and discourages those who would generally shop in town. The mentality of a visitor to the market is for the market and its one-off offering, not to visit the shops etc.”

Previously the town council’s chief executive James Parker told traders that: the date or day could not be changed because the 20 or so regular farmers’ market stalls would be unable to attend; that highways restrictions which maroon some shops and services were unavoidable because of health and safety concerns; and a later start, leaving the morning free for regular trading was unaffordable because generators and lighting would be required after dark.

The fayre does not make a profit. This year the council expected to pay £7,500 to stage it – compared to £3,000 in 2016 when it was subsidised by grants from East Herts district and Herts county councils.

On Monday, Mr Parker maintained his opposition to any change, warning members than any delay might jeopardise delivery in 2018. He said the town’s churches would be unhappy with a Sunday event and he pointed to “unequivocal” evidence from fayre visitors rejecting a move from Saturday.

Some councillors were sympathetic to the traders. Alastair Ward-Booth proposed deferring a decision until more views were canvassed and Cllr Holly Drake said swapping to Sunday – when businesses like banks are closed – could ease congestion.

However, Cllr Gary Jones, who is also East Herts Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economic development, said the busy run-up to Christmas was the wrong time to consult.

He said: “Our efforts need to be directed to liaising and mitigation.”

He proposed the fayre should go ahead on December 1 next year and the vote was carried.

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