Unsettled rent row extends Oxford Covered Market uncertainty

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OXFORD’S Covered Market looks to have been hit by months’ more uncertainty after a deal could not be reached over rents.

It means an independent arbitrator will now be appointed to decide how much the historic market’s traders should pay.

In March, Oxford City Council was accused of going back on its word after refusing to pass on a rise, recommended by an arbitrator for five test case units, to the rest of the market.

The council said there was a mistake in the arbitrator’s calculations, meaning it could not pass on the proposed rent increase of 7.3 per cent.

Instead it sought an increase of 20 per cent and, after a compromise from the Covered Market Traders Association (CMTA) was rejected, the two parties are now in deadlock.

Joy Hetherington, CMTA member and owner of Oxford Aromatics, said: “The council declined our polite offer and we will be going to arbitration, frustrating as it may be.

“We have just got to get on with it. After a while the level of stress is such that you have just got to ignore it. It is now two years and we have absolutely no idea how much back rent we owe.

“We are confident we have a good case but you can never second guess an arbitrator.”

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The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has been asked to appoint an arbitrator to handle the case.

Initially, the city council had proposed to put rents up by as much as 70 per cent.

The arbitrator’s previous findings were in relation to the five test case units.

A second arbitration, relating to about 40 members of the CMTA, was put on hold pending the smaller review, with the city council agreeing to apply its findings to the larger group.

City councillor Colin Cook, the executive board member for city development, said: “I am disappointed that the CMTA didn’t accept our offer.

“Twenty per cent is not that high if you look at it over the five-year period and the relatively low rents that are there already.

“As a council we have to seek best value and we think the arbitrator who did the first five units made a mistake.

“It would be better if this was settled, and settled early, but if the traders have chosen to go to the arbitrator then we will have to follow through with that process.”

City council spokesman Louisa Dean said: “We expect the arbitration to take at least 12 weeks. We are unable to say at this stage how much it will cost.”

TIMELINE

  • 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
  • April 2013: Traders say the market is in battle for its life as they fail to reach an agreement and the dispute goes to arbitration
  • May 2013: Oxford City Council’s development chief Colin Cook accuses traders of talking down the market
  • July 2013: The city council says it expects result of arbitration process in August
  • August 2013: No result issued as the process is beset by delays
  • March 2014: Arbitrators recommend 7.3 per cent rise but issue remains unresolved

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