CHRISTMAS has come early for stallholders, traders and supporters of Stroud farmers’ market after a controversial open tender for the business was put on ice.
Following a public outcry and strident opposition from market stallholders, Stroud District Council was forced to back down on Thursday night (December 19) and suspend its plans to put the popular market out to tender.
More than 2,000 people had signed a petition against the move and Stroud MP Neil Carmichael, along with mayor Amanda Moriarty, celebrated food critic Matthew Fort and the town council, had called for the tender to be withdrawn.
After 14-years of being run by the current operator Made In Stroud Ltd, SDC’s Labour-led administration surprised everyone when it suddenly announced in mid-November that it would be inviting bids for the multi-award winning market from companies interested in taking it over.
But following an impassioned two-and-a-half hour meeting between stallholders and the authority’s leadership on Tuesday, December 17, SDC’s leader Geoff Wheeler agreed to halt the tender process, ‘pending additional consultation with stakeholders’.
The decision to cancel the tender was welcomed by traders and stallholders, who had previously voiced fears about the future of the town centre and the farmers’ market.
Apple juice producer Helen Brent Smith, who set-up the petition, was among the 20 or so stallholders, who attended the meeting with council bosses on Tuesday.
She said: “There was a moment at the meeting when the council admitted it did not have to go down the tender route so we said okay let’s get the tender out of the way, it’s terrible, it’s completely destructive, it risks damaging Stroud, and the wider area and let’s talk about the alternatives.
“If the council wants more money let’s have a negotiation but let’s get all the stakeholders together, including the stallholders and the chamber of trade, and let’s have that discussion first."
Her partner Dave Kaspar also praised SDC for pulling the tender, describing it as a victory for common sense and a 'great Christmas present'.
On being informed by the SNJ that the tender had been shelved, the market's current operator Gerb Gerbrands said: "I have been overwhelmed with the support from the community and I would like to say thank you to everybody who supported the campaign.
"I’m relieved and delighted that the council has chosen to withdraw the tender but at the same time I’m worried about the future so let’s see what happens."
Deputy mayor John Marjoram and Stroud MP Neil Carmichael both said common sense had prevailed.
Mr Carmichael said: “I am pleased that Stroud District Council has backed down on its invitation to tender, but stallholders will be dismayed that it is only a temporary measure until early next year.
“Stroud farmers’ market is one of our great success stories, and I will be continuing my campaign to ensure that it is protected.”
Green Party district councillor Molly Scott-Cato also welcomed the decision, saying it would enable everyone concerned ‘to stop and take stock’.
“I am delighted that the efforts of the Green councillors have helped to bring this about,” she said.
“The farmers' market is a vital part of Stroud's economy. Shopping there is not just a middle class hobby; the market brings all sorts of people into the town, from near and far, who then take their custom to other businesses in the town and help to keep the local economy flourishing."
Speaking at Ebley Mill on Thursday night, SDC leader Geoff Wheeler, said: "There has been a great deal of interest and concern about the tender to re-let Stroud farmers’ market in particular from stallholders.
“The council is very mindful of the role that the farmers market plays in the business life of Stroud town centre.
“To enable the council to address the concerns which have been raised, the current tender is being stopped pending additional consultation with stakeholders including the market stallholders.
“A report will be submitted to strategy and resources committee on February 13 setting out options, including the future tender of the market, all of which will promote its ongoing success and sustainability.
“Potential bidders will be notified as soon as possible and other interested parties will be contacted in the New Year.”