THE new “champion” of Oxford’s Covered Market says she wants to see rent battles between traders and Oxford City Council end.
Labour city councillor Mary Clarkson has been appointed to the position to help resolve issues surrounding rent increases and dropping footfall.
She said: “I’m hoping I can rebuild relations between traders and the council.
“One thing we’ve identified is the whole business of how we agree rent. Every few years we go through this process and we get into this ‘us and them’ battle.
“It costs money and a lot of uncertainty, and we need to deal with this. Instead of having all the rents reviewed at the same time, if we can find a way of staggering it then it may help.”
The city council, which runs the market, has proposed putting up the majority of tenants’ rents and an independent arbitrator was appointed to decide how much they should pay.
Mrs Clarkson, who represents Marston ward, said she would try to put in place recommendations made by a cross-party report, which included rent increases and improvements over how the market is promoted.
This includes new signs, resurfacing the Market Street entrance, reviewing traders’ parking arrangements and developing the space above the market into cafes.
Mrs Clarkson says thriving markets in places like London and Bristol could be used to inspire improvements to the historic venue.
She said: “It’s a fantastic location in the city centre and is held in a huge amount of affection from people both in the city and the wider community.
“The difficulty is that doesn’t always translate into footfall.
“At Christmas it’s packed with people. Everyone says it’s a great place to shop but a lot of them don’t come back until the following Christmas. We need to see people there all year round.
“A few years ago there was a feeling that the days of small traders were over because of the growth of out-of-town supermarkets, but I think things are changing and we should capitalise on that.”
Covered Market Traders Association director Vicki Alder, of Macsamillion shoe shop, said Mrs Clarkson had always supported traders, but questioned how much she could achieve.
She said: “Mary is very pro-market but it still won’t make any difference to the people who are concerned about getting the highest rent they can.
“Our main objective is for the council to be reasonable.”
MARY Clarkson has been an Oxford City Council member for the Marston ward for 16 years.
Married with four children , she lives in Dunstan Road, Headington. As well being a governor at St Joseph’s Primary School in Headington, she is a trustee of Creation Theatre in Oxford.
Mrs Clarkson, who studied at St John’s College, Oxford, says she is particularly interested in planning, environment and transport issues.
She served as the council’s executive board member for the environment from 2002 to 2007. During this time she helped secure funding to improve the roof at the Covered Market and a cleaning schedule.
ARGUMENT RUMBLES ON
- July 2012: Rent rises of up to 70 per cent for next five years announced
- October 2012: One in six Covered Market traders “looking to sell up” because of the 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: 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 for a minority of traders but issue remains unresolved
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