Councillors quiz cost of running markets in March, Chatteris and Whittlesey and their declining popularity - particularly in March where the mid week market is struggling

Market Place, as seen through the lens of the VisitFenland tourism website. https://www.visitcambrid

Market Place, as seen through the lens of the VisitFenland tourism website. - Credit: Archant

The mid-week market in March has plunged in popularity, says a report to Fenland District Council.

On a Wednesday the occupancy is “currently as low as 15 per cent” and the Saturday market is only operating at around two thirds of its capacity. March Market Place can comfortably hold 20 stalls

The figures are contained in a report to the overview and scrutiny committee that looked at council expenditure and income.

The report says Chatteris Market is the only town which does not have its own pedestrianised space. Instead the market is held in a layby which offers space for between five and six stalls and these are all taken.

Anna Goodall, head of governance who produced the report, says currently Whittlesey has four permanent and three additional casual stalls.

‘Casual’ stall holders turn up on an ad-hoc basis and are not licensed. For comparison purposes Wisbech Market – now run by the town council – is held at least twice a week and attracts around 40-45 stalls per market

The figures were discussed by the panel before Christmas when portfolio holder Pete Murphy revealed that the council spent £54,000 last year in repairs, maintenance, electricity, business and water rates, and cleansing services.

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Cllr Murphy confirmed that Wisbech Town Council run the market and are responsible for the associated costs. Asked by Councillor Mike Humphrey if there was scope for the other town councils to take over operation of the markets he said this was a consideration however the cleansing and staffing costs to town councils would be much higher as currently Fenland District Council splits these costs across the three markets.

Councillor David Oliver confirmed that Wisbech Town Council make a slight profit but is unsure of the exact amount.

Councillor Chris Boden highlighted that Fenland Council is currently spending around £76,000 per year for the purpose of the district’s towns retaining their markets.

“Market fees were reviewed fully in 2016 and benchmarked against neighbouring and similar local authorities,” said Ms Goodall.

“We found that in comparison we offered on average a lower rent. We also were able to offer other attractive benefits such as free electricity and trade waste collection which previously constituted an extra charged service. “More recently traders have feedback verbally that our rent continues to be good value and the additional facilities are a welcomed incentive.”

Her report noted that over the past five years the markets’ infrastructure has been improved with new signage, additional enforcement to address local parking issues (March Market Place), new electricity feed pillars for March in 2017 and Whittlesey in 2018 and a small marketing budget to support with local events to attract customers to the market.

An economic development review will look at the markets’ and possible improvements that can be made.