Chester Market traders say rent hike is pricing them out of move to new site

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Traders at Chester Market say they are being priced out of keeping their business running at the new city centre indoor market.

Chester’s new indoor market is part of the £72 million Northgate Development, which will include cafés, bars, restaurants, a six-screen cinema and a 750 space multi-storey car park.

The new Chester Market is set to open around open ‘around October next year’ according to Rob Monaghan, market development manager at Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Read more of the top stories from across Cheshire here.

But while the date is eagerly anticipated by many shoppers – some traders told CheshireLive that the looming opening date tells a more ominous tale.

Button’s Electrical have traded on the market since the 1980s. The second generation of the family to run the business will be the last, however, as they have decided to permanently close the business when the new market opens.

Michelle Parry said that the rent on a comparable unit in the new market would be up to “300 per cent more” than what they currently pay for the five metre by five metre unit that Button’s Electrical occupies.

“That’s it, we’re done,” she told CheshireLive. “When we saw what the rent would be we didn’t bother applying.

The shutters will soon come down on Button’s Electrical for the final time. The stall has been in the same family since the 1980s. (Image: Jonathan Blackburn)

“There is no transfer, even as long-time storeholders there’s no loyalty there to us. We’re not guaranteed a spot. From this market it’s only the fishmonger and the record shop that are moving to the new market.

“We’ve been waiting for this to happen for 25 years. In 2016 we all applied for the new market and we were all accepted. We applied through the market – but this time it was outsourced to a letting agent. A lot of people can’t afford the rent here, nevermind there.”

One trader who will be moving to the new market is Richard Newton, owner of Vinyl Richie record shop and the Bookingham Palace book shop.

Bookingham Palace and Vinyl Richie were left in darkness after a power cut at Chester Market (Image: Bookingham Palace -Vinyl Richie)

Richard has been trading on the market for five and a half years after leaving a job in banking to pursue his passion for music and books.

He said: “The application process was really stressful and that’s coming from me with a banking background and IT background.

“All the answers to the questions were a hundred words maximum, so I was putting in 97 or 98 words to give myself the best chance of being accepted. It took me 14 hours, then they simplified the application process and my application that I had spent all that time on was no longer acceptable, so I had to start again.

“Aside from that it looks alright.”

Richard also noted an increase in rent, and said that he had stood his ground and bargained the rate down.

“My rent went up an extra 35 per cent and it’s two thirds the size of this place,” he said.

The well-stocked Bookingham Palace, sister stall of Vinyl Richie. (Image: Jonathan Blackburn)

Lisa runs Purely Pots, the market’s purveyor of hardy plants. She approved of the council’s stringent application process.

“The application process was very thorough because they wanted to make sure that those staying will be able to stay there,” she said.

“As far as I’m aware they wanted everyone to go in.”

She also argues that the increase in rent was justified.

“You can’t expect to go into a new building with all the facilities and greater footfall and expect to pay the same rent,” Lisa said.

A vibrant array of plants outside Purely Pots. (Image: Jonathan Blackburn)

Cllr Richard Beacham, cabinet member for Inclusive Growth, Economy & Regeneration, responded to the traders’ concerns about rent costs by saying it would be ‘unfair to expect to enter a newly built market on the same terms’ as 30 years ago.

Cllr Beacham said: “Currently around half of the running costs for Chester Market are subsidised from council tax, but with growing pressure on council budgets it is imperative that the new market is cost neutral. For some traders in the current market, the rents have changed little since they were set by the former Chester City Council in the 1990s.

“As part of our regeneration plans, the council has also invested in the existing market to try new ideas ahead of the new market opening.

“I hope that residents will appreciate that if a trader agreed their current rental terms with the council 30 years ago, and this figure has not changed much in this time, then it would be unfair to expect to enter a newly built market on the same terms when the cost of building the new market needs to be repaid.

“Plus, the physical costs of running a market in terms of utilities and staff wages have obviously increased since the 1990s too.

“The council has tried to be sympathetic to these changes, so traders moving over to the new market are able to agree transitional rental terms to help with this adjustment for example. Also the proposed new rents have been benchmarked against similar markets around the country.

“We will continue to try and get the balance right in being supportive to market traders, whilst also giving consideration to the other challenges faced by the council and the local economy.”

Units in the new Chester Market will be leased to traders using ‘contracted out’ leases. A ‘contracted out’ or ‘non-protected’ lease is a lease of business premises which has been excluded from the security of tenure provisions in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954.

Building work continues as the Northgate Development begins to take shape. (Image: Jonathan Blackburn)

Under the act, business tenants have a right to renew their tenancy at the end of the lease, a right that is foregone in a non-protected agreement.

Rob Monaghan, market development manager for Construction & Regeneration, explained the council’s decision to offer non-protected leases.

He said: “Traditionally, property wise, and not just market stalls, the landlord and tenant relationship is built on the back of the Landlord and Tenant 1954 Act; these tenancies are long, long leases.

“Over many years – the last 10, 12, 15 years – there has been a movement towards more flexible contracted-out leases that work better for the landlord and better for the tenant.

“And so most markets now across the country, particularly the newer ones, are on non-protected or contracted out tenancies, and that’s in line with most other markets across the country.

Building work continues as the Northgate Development begins to take shape. (Image: Jonathan Blackburn)

“It benefits the landlord because if you’ve got a situation where the tenant isn’t performing or there are issues with the kind of stuff that’s being sold, the landlord can say that ‘this is not working for us, and so we will ask you for your lease back.’

“It works well for the tenant because there is no long-term commitment there. If a tenant signs up on a five-year lease, a 1954 Act lease, and it doesn’t work for them, even if they don’t make any money, they’re still committed to pay the rent for the next five years. So it works better in both ways and that’s the model that’s been adopted across the country.”