Proposals to move Chester-le-Street’s historic market as part of a flood prevention scheme have been met with anger by traders.
Durham County Council is considering opening up a stretch of the Cong Burn that runs under the town’s Market Place, as part of its £6.2 million investment in flood prevention. If the plans proceed, the watercourse would be turned into a public realm feature.
However, such work would also necessitate the relocation of more than 100 market stalls during and after the works – which traders have warned will “kill” the market that takes place each Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
“Stalls you have to erect are not substantial enough”
Among the critics of the planned disruption is 52-year-old Chris Simon, who runs Immanuel Fabrics and travels 120 miles from Burnley, Lancashire for the market.
He commented: “This is a family business and we have been coming here for 40 years. It has always been a strong market but they changed it a few years ago and spent a fortune and moved us elsewhere. The business went totally flat – nothing.
“We have managed to recover when we came back here but now they are going to change it again after spending all that money. They’re saying they are going to put us at the bottom on stalls we have to erect ourselves. Stalls you have to erect are not substantial enough because of the weight, it’s a danger as well.”
Mr Simon added that the authority had kept him “in the dark” about its intentions, adding: “They are telling us bits and pieces but nobody seems to know what’s going on properly.”
Meanwhile, fishmonger Keith Blight – who runs Healthy Plaice – urged the council to increase its investment in the market.
The 54-year-old suggested: “What they want to do is put a roof over like an indoor market, people won’t get wet, have a few tables, people can walk around and have a coffee.
“Even just put hard plastic over the stalls. If the market was done right people would come – it is a market town.”
Council defends plans
Sites under consideration for the market during the works include the former Civic Centre car park, the car park to the rear of Wesley Terrace and Cone Terrace next to the taxi rank. The council has also indicated that the market could be permanently moved to South Burns, Red Carpet or Front Street.
Head of technical services at Durham County Council, John Reed, said the authority was consulting with traders and the public.
He added: “As part of the consultation, we are asking market traders and the market operator about possible alternative locations while the work is carried out and once it is complete.
“We appreciate the market is a popular and important feature of the town and will ensure whatever option is agreed there will be sufficient capacity to accommodate all of the current market traders.”
Up to £1.5 million is being committed by the council for the scheme, which also includes proposals to extend the existing flood wall in the town. The authority is applying to the Environment Agency and European Regional Development Fund for the rest of the cash.