How Liverpool market row escalated

The future of Liverpool’s historic St Johns Market has been thrown into question after the city council dramatically closed the doors on Monday morning, seemingly catching traders and shoppers off guard.

Since October last year, uncertainty has lingered over the market when council bosses indicated they would seek to reclaim debts from dozens of traders. Despite seeking an amicable solution, the relationship between both parties has seemingly broken down after this morning’s shock closure.

In the autumn, amid what the local authority described as a “high level” of money owed, the city sought to claw back funds from traders dating back to 2020. At that stage, the market costs Liverpool Council just under £1m a year to subsidise.

Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of the city council, said it was time “traders have to think about how they are going to cover their costs” but wanted to work with individual businesses to achieve the money owed.

In 2020, rent and service charges were reintroduced to traders after little improvement following the botched 2016 doll-up of the site and payments were expected.

Cllr Robinson said things had to change given the situation the council found itself in. Speaking in October, he said, “We do need to address this where we need to start working with traders to start seeing how arrears are paid. We need to start that stage of the conversation. 

“We can’t keep this situation going.” Cllr Robinson admitted the council hadn’t dealt with the situation “perfectly” in the past but wanted to engage with the businesses in St John’s.

He added, “We can’t have a direction where that level of fees and charges are outstanding. We’ll work with the traders individually to find a way of doing this.

“We are expecting people to come to an agreement appropriately with us as to how their arrears will be paid. We can’t be in a place where people are just not willing. 

“Everyone is at home paying their council tax when it is tough, the traders have to think about how they are going to cover their costs.”

According to a letter issued to traders, Liverpool Council could only invest in the site when it got money back from business owners. The text, sent by David Lewis, senior commercial property lawyer within the council’s legal services team, said the council sought an “amicable resolution to this matter,” and wanted to engage with the traders to ensure it was resolved. 

Mr Lewis added, “The commitment and hard work of the individual traders within the market is not in doubt, but even so, the site is not performing as a commercially viable space.”

The document also said it was viewed by Liverpool Council that it had “no historic obligation” to have a market at St Johns.” The legal officer added how it was considered “logical and correct” that given the council is “responsible for the upkeep of the market… this is passed to the traders and charged within their service charges as it is the traders who benefit.”

Some traders have been critical of a perceived lack of support from the council to promote the market. This was rejected by Mr Lewis, who said, “Marketing of St Johns is largely a matter for yourselves, the traders, not the council.”

In the face of the swirling demand for money back, traders admitted their prospects – almost prophetically – were bleak, including Michael Newton who ran Pets Parlour since the 1990s.

He said, “It’s grim, it’s very grim. In 28 years before, I’ve not missed a week of rent, then this happened.

“At the rate it’s going, I can’t carry on. When the escalators broke, we found a new low.

“If I was coming to this as a new starter, I’d run a mile.”

St John’s Shopping Centre is a different entity. It remains unaffected by this decision and continues to operate under its normal hours.

Image: GOOGLE

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