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Bishop's Stortford Town Council set to hold full market rights

Bishops Stortford general views. Potter Street/South Street. Market Signage. Pic: Vikki Lince
Bishops Stortford general views. Potter Street/South Street. Market Signage. Pic: Vikki Lince

Full control of Bishop's Stortford's historic market is finally set to be granted to the town council.

Members of the localism and strategy committee were told East Herts District Council has offered to hand over all rights and responsibilities - four years after initially refusing to do so.

The change could happen as soon as April next year.

Chief executive James Parker said: “All the indications are East Herts wants to proceed with this and is asking us to confirm that we want to acquire the market rights.”

Back in June 2013, the town council asked the district if it could take over the market. The bid was rebuffed forcing the town to use the Community Right to Challenge process to force the district to look at the issue. The town then had to win a competitive tender process and it was June 2015 before it took over stewardship of the Thursday and Saturday markets along North Street, South Street and in Market Square and introduced a monthly farmers’ and craft market.

However, East Herts retained ownership of the market rights, based on an ancient charter from the Bishop of London in 1336, controlling rival events with 6.66 miles of the town with the option to charge a fee before they can take place. It is this right which would be transferred to the town council in the new move as the district bids to cut its £42,000 annual bill for controlling the markets in Stortford, Ware and Hertford.

Mr Parker told localism and strategy committee members that the right to licence events within 6.66 miles even applied to school fetes, although the authority would reserve the right to charge, in practice it would not do so. Stalls in Jackson Square shopping precinct could certainly be subject to charges, along with the country market outside the Half Moon pub each Thursday in North Street. It could even seek to charge for markets in Sawbridgeworth or across the border in Stansted as the ancient legislation does not respect county boundaries or modern postcodes, but again Mr Parker cautioned that while invoking those rights against commercial enterprises could yield income for the town, it was against convention to wrangle with other town and parish councils. East Herts currently collects fees worth £10,000 a year and Mr Parker believed there was scope to maximise these returns.

He said: “They just charge £50 for a French market to come in.”.

The town’s current stewardship of the markets has resulted in a small income surplus rather than the break even point initially envisaged when it won the tender and the committee voted to proceed with acquiring the full market rights from the district, subject to ratification by the full council.

The mayor, Councillor Colin Woodward said once the deal was complete, East Herts should return the historic market charter to the town.

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