Senior leaders defend St John’s Market closure

Senior leaders at Liverpool Council have defended the decision to abruptly close St Johns Market.

Traders and shoppers alike were shocked on Monday morning when it was confirmed the city council had closed the doors on the historic market less than six months after announcing it was seeking to claim back around £1.7m in unpaid rent.

Last Autumn, officials had said they wanted to find an amicable solution with business owners but with no acceptable offer forthcoming, took the decision to pull down the shutters.

Taking to social media today, cabinet members have defended the council’s position.

Those who headed to the city centre market yesterday were greeted with a note from the council which said, “Regrettably, St John’s Market is now closed to the public for the foreseeable future.” Shoppers were then invited to scan a QR code for more information.

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 cost 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 revamp of the site and payments were expected.

Responding to queries on social media, Cllr Harry Doyle, cabinet member for health, wellbeing and culture, questioned whether attempts at mediation had led to a positive outcome. He added, “I tried my best to support the market, hence the markets review and capital set aside, but no resolution was found. 

“Paying 1/3 rent is not best value for the taxpayer.”

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.

It seems this relationship has now broken down, with criticism from opposition Liberal Democrats including Cllr Mirna Juarez, who described it as “our very own Black Monday.”

Cllr Nick Small, cabinet member for growth and economy, sought to explain the city’s position online. He said the council was looking at options moving forward.

He added, “The council invited traders to make meaningful offers about repaying the £1.7m arrears and repeatedly extended deadlines to do so. No meaningful offers were made.

“The last correspondence from the council was to traders’ solicitors warned them that a response was required by return or the stalls would be closed.  No response was received. 

“I’m disappointed that the council was forced down this road, but this is about £1.7m arrears that’s owed to residents of the city – funding that could be used for libraries, children in care, vulnerable older people and cleaning out streets.”

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