No new money can be spent on St Johns Market until the £1.7m debt owed by traders is paid back.
According to a letter issued to traders in the historic city centre market, Liverpool Council can only invest in the site when it gets money back from business owners that has not been paid for the last three years.
It was revealed that the local authority is calling in rent and service charge arrears owed by tenants at St Johns since 2020 as it can no longer afford to subsidise the site.
Traders have reacted angrily to the plans, accusing the council of “sticking the knife in.” Now, a letter issued to the businesses seen by the LDRS has revealed how the council intends to get the money back.
The text, sent by David Lewis, senior commercial property lawyer within the council’s legal services team, said, “The council seeks an amicable resolution to this matter, and therefore, wishes to engage with the traders to ensure this matter is 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 council invested in a renovation of the market, located in St John’s Shopping Centre back in 2016.
Despite £2.5m being pumped into the site, it was heavily criticised – even by then Mayor Joe Anderson – who initially offered traders three, then six months free rent as an incentive to stay and increase footfall.
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. Many of these have not materialised and under the new administration – which seeks to improve the council’s collection rates – plans are changing and bills are being called in.
After extensive research, Mr Lewis said, “It is viewed by the council that there is no historic obligation on the council 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.”
He added, “On the question of future expenditure, this can only occur when the arrears accumulated, as a result of the non-payment of service charges and/or rent due, have been cleared. Currently the traders collectively are in arrears of rent and service charges to a sum estimated to be over £1.7m.”
Two letters are to be sent out to traders – one setting out in detail the amount owed and a formal request to pay within 28 days. The second will give “greater leeway” on the payment period – up to six months – which the council said is intended to “give a good opportunity for you [traders] to negotiate with the council for the way forwards and for you to decide how you wish to proceed for the greatest benefit of your business.”
Setting out why the authority was seeking to bring in the money owed, council leader Liam Robinson told the LDRS, “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.”
This was not received well by some, including butcher Max Dixon. He said, “We offered what was considered a fair amount last year and we didn’t hear anything since we got the letter yesterday.
“We’re not the landlords, they developed this mess and it’s a ludicrous amount of money they’re asking for.”