TRADERS at Oxford’s Covered Market say they are “in limbo” and claim council chiefs have fallen silent over a planned rent hike.
Almost a month ago they wrote to Oxford City Council saying they would not pay a flat-rate 20 per cent increase.
But they say they still haven’t had a response.
A five-year rent agreement should have been signed in March 2012 for another five years but the two sides cannot agree a rise.
The Covered Market Traders Association (CMTA) wrote to the council to say it will pay three to 12 per cent recommended by an arbitrator.
But the council – which originally proposed a range of rises up to 70 per cent – said the ruling does not count due to a calculation error.
Association vice-chairwoman Vicki Alder said of the March 16 letter: “We have had no communication from them.
“It is like working under a cloud.”
The Macsamillion shoe store chairwoman – who pays £1,500 a week in rent – said: “Nobody is going to pay 20 per cent.
“I have faith in the market, I don’t want it to be all doom and gloom, it is a brilliant place.
“But the council must understand we don’t drive around in Rolls-Royces and holiday in the Caribbean.”
Another round of arbirtration is now likely, she said, after previous mediation by The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Shops which have left the market include The Oxford Engraver, in 2012, and Chocology last August after 12 years, with owner John Partington saying rents were “not sustainable”. None of the 58 units is currently empty.
Paul Birtles, owner of florist The Garden, said: “We’re in limbo land.”
Joy Hetherington, owner of Oxford Aromatics, said: “This is distressing. We can go to arbitration again but it’s very costly.”
Labour member for city development Colin Cook said he was not aware of whether the council had responded or not.
He said: “The settlement that we proposed we believe is a reasonable one as it is based on the professional advice of an independent assessor.”
A minority of traders have agreed rents and any increase will be back-dated to March 2012.
The arbitrator first proposed 16 per cent to 27 per cent but revised this to three to 12 per cent after a calculation error.
The council would not accept this, saying: “Awards cannot be withdrawn or altered except for clerical errors.”
It said 20 per cent is in line with inflation over the past seven years.
A council spokesman said: “We will reply to all letters in due course. We are in regular correspondence with the Covered Market traders.”
The Oxford Mail understands a new manager has been appointed to the market and will start work in the coming weeks.
- July 2012: Rent rises of up to 70 per cent announced for the next five years
- October 2012: One in six traders looking to sell up because of the rent increase, it is claimed
- April 2013: Traders say the market is in a battle for its life as they fail to reach an agreement and the dispute goes to arbitration
- July 2013: The city council says it expects result of arbitration process in August
- March 2014: Arbitrators recommend 7.3 per cent rise but the issue remains unresolved