Struggling Sheffield traders call in team of lawyers over market rent row

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TRADERS ARE seeking legal advice amid fears for the long-term future of a multi-million pound indoor market in a Yorkshire city.

Stall owners in the Moor in Sheffield are set to host crunch meetings with council leaders in the coming weeks regarding a number of new proposals designed to help struggling businesses.

Tenants were given six-month rent-free period when the £18m building opened to huge fanfare in November, as part of the agreement to re-locate from the historic Castle Market. The site move allowed the council to press ahead with the demolition of the site as part of city centre regeneration.

The free rent period was then extended by a further three months owing to low visitor numbers and is due to expire on August 25, after which they will be charged at a half rate for three months.

While Sheffield Council’s announcement said its plans include reduced rents, more flexible tenancy agreements and changes to layout to prevent “bottlenecking” in busy areas, traders remain unconvinced.

They say they have drafted in lawyers to help make their case to the council.

Fruit and vegetable stall owner Ian Bingham said: “The market is not doing as well as we or the council anticipated.

“The rent has been set on the money the council borrowed to build the market and there are issues around that.

“At the moment the half-rent will last three months until they supposedly sort out a proper rate and we need to look over our leases with lawyers for starters.”

The £18m building enjoyed a successful opening, with record visitor number and huge takings in its first week. Since then, however, many stalls have struggled to survive and others have even been forced to close up shop.

Coun Leigh Bramall, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for business, said the new proposals were designed to make trading conditions easier for stallholders and rates would reflect the fact the area is still under development.

He said: “Before the Moor Market opened, it was difficult to predict how it would work as a living, breathing shopping environment. But now stalls have become established and we can see how it is working, we are in a position to make some tweaks and alterations to make the market the best that it can possibly be.

“We feel that it is only fair to traders that rents at the Moor Market reflect the wider shopping environment that they are working in.”

The announcement comes following months of unrest between the council and traders.

Transport bosses’ decision to axe the FreeBee bus service, which stopped at a number of key points in the city centre, and used to drop shoppers right outside the venue earlier this year was met with dismay. At the time, Mick Cull, owner of Fruit Fayre and president of the Sheffield branch of National Market Traders’ Federation, warned it could prove “the final nail in the coffin” for some businesses.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Cull said: “We need to take legal advice on a number of issues, including our tenancy agreements and one or two other things. The council has tried to give themselves the good Press coverage but once we’ve spoken to our lawyers the bigger picture will be clearer.”