While farmers sang carols about shepherds watching their flocks by night around the auction mart ring in Malton just prior to Christmas another familiar festive character remained lurking in the shadows ready to make a familiar entrance as the pantomime villain in what has become the livestock market’s very own Brexit-style conundrum.
Theresa May’s impasse with party members, fellow politicians from the other side of the house and Europe are mirrored in the market town’s dilemma brought on initially by the wishes of the Fitzwilliam Estate some years ago.
The estate is the aforesaid pantomime villain in the eyes of livestock market regulars with the Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation as its henchman to handle the dirty work of levering out the old to bring in the new.
As with most stories that make for long-running sagas there are a number of plot lines and changes that transpire over a period of time.
But the basics are the Fitzwilliam Estate, regardless of whichever guise it goes under, wants the traditional livestock market out of the centre of town where it presumably hopes greater revenue can be made from future development.
Farmers, who wouldn’t move to another location out of choice, but understand life isn’t how it was 30 years ago and livestock vehicles have become larger and therefore more cumbersome for the market town, have been prepared to move out to a new market designated near Eden Camp next to the A64.
It’s not an ideal arrangement as many local shopkeepers and long-standing Malton residents feel the town will lose its identity as well as the all-year round, weekly trade brought by farmers and their families. It’s also not happening just yet.
The move to the five-acre site, which was seemingly signed, sealed and delivered seven years ago shows no sign of taking place in the immediate future and with the imminent death of high street retail across the UK there appears less enthusiasm to set the wheels properly in motion.
Yet Pat Foxton, chairman of the board of directors of Malton & Ryedale Farmers Livestock Marketing Company, and fellow directors who run the site and want to move say they are feeling pressurised.
“It could be so easy,” says Pat who is a livestock haulier and farmer at Silpho, near Scarborough.
“They want rid of us, we want to move, we’ve been gifted the site by the trust, plus we have pledges and investors, including Ryedale District Council who are looking at how they can have a substantial financial involvement, but we won’t be given the keys to the site until all of the monies needed for the new build are in the hands of the solicitor.
“That has increased from £2m to £2.5m in the past three years. While we understand that everything has to be paid for I feel there are people involved who have their own hidden agendas and seem to have a habit of moving the goalposts.
“I find it a little disingenuous that while the estate is attempting to market the town as the food capital of North Yorkshire it is at the same time making life difficult for those who produce the food. It’s not really joined up thinking.
“We know the mart needs relocating because of the way life is today and we are prepared to move. One of the original ideas was to get the new market built with funds already pledged, get it working and then make up any shortfall within five years and at one point the developer of the site was going to do that.
“It was all part of the plan we originally entered into by helping them receive planning consent for other development. We honoured our side of the agreement.
“The crux is the developer won’t sign the deeds over until we have enough funds in our solicitor’s account to complete the build.
“In the meantime the market has been working as it always has, trade is on the up and all is well apart from the estate incessantly trying to make life as uncomfortable as possible.
“Their agent said at a council meeting only three months ago that there was no intention of closing the market in the short term and when he was asked to quantify short term he said not inside a year.
“Three weeks later he contacted us and said he was going to remove the outdoor livestock pens because we didn’t use them, which we do. To my mind that’s not the action of someone or some estate trying to be helpful.
“I think we took their breath away in 2008 when they were cocksure the mart was going to close and we stopped it with a huge petition and our own marketing.
“All we want now is for the move to take place, but like I say I fear there are those with their own hidden agendas.”
Ryedale District Council has recently contracted a consultant to look into investment in the building of the new mart.