PRESTON councillors have been accused of trying to “dodge bullets” by holding back a decision on the city’s new indoor market until after the May election.
Workmen began drilling test boreholes yesterday for the new building which will be erected on part of the adjacent outdoor market.
But indoor tenants suspect council chiefs are being deliberately vague on what the new hall will look like – and how many traders it will accommodate – because they are worried it could cost them votes.
“We were told the council would be releasing details by the end of March,” said Norman Young of the Indoor Market Tenants Association. “But we’ve now been informed by someone senior at the Town Hall that it will be delayed until after the elections.
“Clearly the council leaders are worried what they are planning is going to be unpopular – and not just with us traders. So they’re attempting to dodge bullets by holding it back until it is too late to affect the polls.”
By law the customary period of ‘purdah,’ where publicity of political issues is strictly controlled in the run-up to an election, begins on March 30.
With feelings running high on the market hall project, particularly what kind of replacement the authority will provide, traders fear it will be too hot to handle before May 7.
“This is a very contentious issue,” said Norman, whose family fruit and veg business may have to quit Preston if it is forced outdoors.
“We expect the replacement will be much smaller and there won’t be room for many of us. The plans could have a bearing on the elections and that’s why the council is holding back.”
The tenants’ claims were dismissed as “simple not true” by the city council’s deputy leader John Swindells. He insisted plans for the new market hall had not even been drawn up yet and it could be summer before they are ready for release.
“It is all down to timescale,” he said. “It just takes as long as it takes. There is no ducking and diving here, we just haven’t got the information to give them. We are only just on with fesibility work and until we know what the ground conditions are we can’t design it or cost it up. I can assure the tenants they will be the first to know as soon as we have anything we can say.”