Furious traders are calling for a debate in Parliament over Preston Council’s handling of the indoor market saga.
The stallholders, who are accusing Town Hall chiefs of “not telling the truth” over plans to replace the run-down building, now plan to take their protest to Westminster.
The businesses, some of whom have been tenants for more than 40 years, are launching an online petition calling for a rethink on the £5m project to flatten the market a smaller structure which they fear may force many of them outdoors.
The tenants, who met architects for the £5m project last week, have demanded urgent Town Hall assurances that all food stalls will be housed in the new building – and not just poultry, meat and fish.
“After what we were told by the architects we are extremely worried,” said fruit and veg trader Ellen Young of the Indoor Market Tenants’ Association. “The council have been evasive all along.”
Urban designers IBI Taylor Young from Cheshire were appointed a month ago to produce a vision for the new market hall.
But, when the architects visited the building last week for a first inspection, traders seized the opportunity to quiz them about what their remit was.
“We asked how much they had to spend on a new building,” said Ellen whose family run the Banana King (Matthew Wade Ltd) business.
“There is only £5m in the pot for redeveloping the markets quarter. And, after spending £2m on demolishing the old one and between £1m and £1.5m on refurbishing the Victorian canopies of the outdoor market, they will have only £1.5m to £2m left to build the new one.
“When we asked what was being planned, they said it would be small and there would only be provision for meat, fish and poultry. Everything else, including fruit and veg, was going outside.
“We can’t operate our business from trestle tables outdoors. We have a catering side and also a growing internet business. We can’t do all that with the wind whistling round our ears. Talking to the other traders, everyone is disgusted. But when we try to get any sense out of the council they just avoid giving us answers. It’s obvious they have an agenda and whatever we want isn’t on it.”
Council leader Peter Rankin responded by saying: “Investing in the markets is the council’s top priority for improving Preston city centre. We want to see a vibrant and thriving market continue in Preston.
“We are only at the very start of the process at looking at options for the future operation of the market. We are starting by looking first at the specialist requirements of poultry, meat and fish traders who have needs for cold storage and hygiene preparation etc. We can then systematically work through the needs and requirements of other market traders.
“As such it is simply too early to say what stalls and goods the future market may contain. We will be consulting and working with market traders to come forward with the best possible scheme that we can within the budget available.”
Nobody from designers IBI Taylor Young was available for comment.