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St John’s Market Traders Demand Answers from Liverpool Council

Traders from St John’s Market are waging a war against Liverpool City Council after being left in the dark over when — and if — it will reopen.

The market closed in March due to the coronavirus outbreak and has yet to reopen, despite several shops being open in the city centre since June.

 

One tenant said they suffered a heart attack as a result of the severity of the situation, while other stallholders say the impact on their mental health has been catastrophic.

 

With the council continuing to ignore traders, they now fear that the pandemic is being used as an excuse to close down the historical market.

 

Liberal Democrat Cllr Kris Brown called out the council for trying to “starve St John’s Market traders into submission,” citing the £2.5m refurbishment in 2016 as the beginning of the end for tenants.

 

“I strongly suspect that the council is now trying to charge rents which will force traders to close up so that the council will not need to pay compensation if they officially closed the market.”

 

“This project was a mess from start to finish,” said Brown. “It was undertaken with no consultation with traders for shoppers by an architect with no experience of market design.

 

“So from day one it has been a shell of an enterprise with none of the warmth and vitality that is required of a successful market.

 

“I strongly suspect that the council is now trying to charge rents which will force traders to close up so that the council will not need to pay compensation if they officially closed the market.”

Traders protest at Clayton Square. Image by Lewis Jennings

John Dixon is a lifelong tenant and recalls helping his father first set up his stall when the market moved to St Johns Shopping Centre in 1971.

 

But now he worries his livelihood is at stake.

 

“It’s an act of desperation,” said Dixon, regarding a protest that took place in Clayton Square on Tuesday. “We have tried to be quiet and understanding, but it’s come over as if we are just being soft. It’s time some questions were answered and some discussions were begun.

 

“Mentally, everyone’s getting towards the end of their tether. It’s having an affect, not just on the traders, but an affect on the staff as well. One of my girls is saying, ‘I can’t sleep, I’m getting stressed, I don’t know whether I’m going to have a job and I’ve worked for you since I was 16.’”

 

Several traders and customers joined Dixon during the protest, including Reverend Jean Flood, who has been a chaplain at the market for over 15 years. She says the council has a “civic responsibility” to people that visit regularly for the social interaction.

 

“People spend the whole day in the market just for human contact,” said Flood. “That’s one place you can do that without it costing you much.

 

“Surely, during this time of crisis, people should sit down together and work out a compromise that will keep everybody going.”

 

One customer, who had previously worked at the market and suffers with disabilities, thanked traders for their constant support and said he wished the council would recognise this too.

 

“If you haven’t listened in the past, please listen now because you’re making people suffer,” he said. “Not just myself, but quite a lot of other disabled people. They depend on this market for their help and support and everything else. Don’t close the market.”

Mayor Anderson was criticised during demonstrations. Image by Lewis Jennings

Mayor Joe Anderson was criticised during the protests for his silence on the situation. Back in spring 2018, he wrote to tenants and promised to right the wrongs of the ill-fated refurbishment.

 

Trader John Foley, who led the demonstration, had strong words for Anderson.

 

“Get this market open,” said Foley. “I know there’s issues with the rent and what have you. I don’t want to go into the past and what happened with the shambolic refurbishment. What’s happening now is that you’ve had testimonies from people and traders who are suffering.

 

“You’ve got 50+ families and traders here. Mental health is an issue, Joe. It’s not about money, it’s about getting these traders back to work. Then we can talk about the rent and what have you later.

 

“I’m not lying, Joe. We don’t spin it like the council spin it. We have transparency throughout the market. The council will spin it, Joe Anderson spins it and the Liverpool Echo spins it.”

 

Kevin Robinson, founder of Everton Together and the Green Party candidate for Everton in the next election, was also on hand to show solidarity with traders.

 

“You see people when they go on strike, they have all these different groups with them. There’s nobody else here and we need to support these people,” he said, revealing how his sister has worked at the market for 18 years.

 

“Council, speak to them. That’s all they want. So, Joe, give them a call, will you?”

 

Scottie Press reached out to Mayor Anderson and the council. Although no comment was given by the former, the council said plans were in place to reopen the market by the end of August.

 

“A maintenance programme of works is being carried out, but completion has been slow due to the lockdown,” said a council spokesperson.

 

“Liverpool City Council has lost more than £450m from its budget in the past decade due to Government cuts, which has been compounded by the huge financial impact and costs, associated with Covid-19. As a result of these financial constraints, the council is having to review all of its commercial arrangements.

 

“St John’s Market currently costs the council £1m a year to operate and in this new environment it can no longer sustain that expense to the tax payer. The council will be communicating with all the traders on the options available to progress this situation.”

 

Traders are livid with the lack of consultation from the council after having no correspondence since before lockdown. When pressed for a date that tenants would be contacted, a council spokesperson confirmed it would be in the “coming days and weeks.”

 

In an interview with Scottie Press last month, Riverside MP Kim Johnson lambasted the council’s consultation process. She questioned the lack of discussion between the council and the public over the controversial Zip World project.

 

“The whole process has been quite flawed, in that, if Liverpool City Council wanted to, they could have got more information out to people, so there would have been more objections,” Johnson said.

 

“But I think, knowing the council and how they do certain things, that if they want to consult, they consult, if they don’t, then they don’t.”

 

Zip World recently announced plans to move their Adventure Terminal from Liverpool Central Library to St Johns Shopping Centre after an outcry from the public, raising concerns that traders will be moved out the market to make room for the attraction.

 

A council spokesperson denied this, saying Zip World were in discussions to take a unit near the Williamson Square side of the centre.

 

But given the size of the proposed Adventure Terminal that was to be placed in Central Library, and compare this to the size of the available units in St Johns Shopping Centre, it seems unlikely the shopfront would fit — unless it was reduced drastically in size, or, more alarmingly for traders, placed in St John’s Market.

 

Scottie Press has reached out to Zip World for comment.

 

Another protest is planned in Clayton Square this coming Monday (August 24) at 2pm.

Protests at Clayton Square. Image by Lewis Jennings