On Wednesday night, Ludlow Town Council met to consider plans for a social distanced town, included Ludlow Market. The good news is the market will reopen next Monday – 8 June.

It is essential that the market reopens. Here is just one of the many comments I have received from market traders in the last couple of months. “It’s the end of my business. It’s taken ten years to build up and it’s my only income. It’s over for us. I feel helpless.”

We need to help people that trade on the market. They are at the centre of our life in the town centre.

Plans agreed last night will allow 20 pitches, less that half our normal compliment. But that is a huge improvement on earlier plans that could have seen as few as nine stalls.

It is time to reopen the town centre and celebrate the market at the heart of our town. We miss our market. We need it back.

The socially distanced market

On Wednesday night, there were two options for discussion. They were tabled mid-afternoon and were already out of date before the meeting started. That was because Shropshire Council had said during the afternoon it would not support plans for gazebos in Post Office Square, the area to the east of the market. It said the square is needed for social distancing.

The town clerk, Gina Wilding told the meeting that Shropshire Council supported four pitches on Events Square but wanted to have more information on the proposed van pitch and what queues that could entail. Shropshire Council made no comments on the arrangements for the Market Square, seeing this area as entirely within Ludlow Town Council’s jurisdiction.

During the meeting, all councillors supported the first option, without the gazebos on Post Office Square.This will have 14 picthes, four gazebos and two vans.

Councillor Graeme Perks opposed opening the market until after the July meeting of the town council.

Councillor Erica Garner asked whether the market traders had been consulted. The clerk said consultations had been underway through the market officer. Traders haven’t had an opportunity to look in details at the plans being discussed at the council meeting but they were an improvement on what has been offered before. “This is the maximum we can safely get onto the market.” Councillor Garner asked whether the council knew how many traders wished to return and how many do not. The clerk replied that not all market traders wished to return. She said the town council had removed any previous ‘ownership’ of market pitches. If pitches are oversubscribed, there will be a lottery. There are certainly going to be some traders who will be disappointed.

Councillor Rose Jones asked when the market will be reopening. The clerk said that depends on what decision is made. But on what has been said so far, the market should open by the beginning of next week.

Councillor Jim Smithers asked about the problem of parking on the Market Square. The town clerk relied that complete cooperation is needed from the traders, the customers and the people parking on the square. If people park on the square it will prevent trading because we won’t be able to have social distancing around some stalls. “We are asking for community cooperation to make this happen.”

Councillor Adrian Cobley asked whether the decisions to be made at that night’s meeting would be cast in stone? “We have a theoretical layout and we are not going to know how it works until it is put into practice.” The town clerk assured him that there will be review though no date was put forward.

Councillor Graeme Perks said he was “very nervous” on making a decision that night for three reasons. The local traders have not had the time to fully take ownership of the proposals, so deciding which market layout to adopt is at this point was premature. The way that tourism has reacted in Church Stretton and other places, this council saying the market is open without having Shropshire Council’s enforcement of the expansion of the shops is a dangerous precedent. “We can’t risk anything with this. It’s too dangerous.” And thirdly:

“The dangers to the town if in a month’s time there are more localised lockdowns by us making in any way or form contributing to this area being locked down harshly because we made a rash decision [on market layout], in my opinion it’s too dangerous. I suggest we look at this at the July meeting with no possibility of this market reopening next week.”

Councillor Robin Pote said we will have more problems if we can’t get a market open with as many traders as soon as we can. There has been some “mass descending in various places”. We can always modify as we go along. We must start somewhere.

Council Colin Sheward said: “You can be so over cautious. You’ve got to take the chance. You’ve got to be more optimistic and in favour, rather than holding another month.”

Councillor Ginger said that if restrictions on parking on the square were abused, the market would have to shut again.

The market manager, Tony Caton told the meeting he had been putting letters on the cars parked on the market yesterday and would continue to do so. He said that these could be reinforced once the opening date for the market is known. Shropshire Council are going to manage conformance of the market [to social distancing rules]. He told the meeting he had been to Hereford market earlier and there had been no conformity. No hand sanitiser. No distancing. No entrance. Not exit. No control. As far as Ludlow traders are concerned, they want to make a living, they have stock to sell. We should start the market as soon as we can. If we start on a Monday, that really helps because it is going to be quiet. It will be an easy market to see how the public reacts and how it meets our expectations. If social distancing is reduced to 1.5m or 1.0m it would be gamechanger.

Councillor Gill said it is going to be a steep learning curve.

“I think it is going to be quite exciting. It will get us going. Trying to put some life into the town. Although it is important for market traders, it is also important for the shops that will be opening pulling people into that part of the town.”

Councillor Jones told the meeting that she went to Church Stretton market frequently and social distancing works well. One way around. And people were extremely good it.

Councillor Garner said “We need to tell our residents that the market will reopen to get people in the market square. What are we going to do publicise our market opening?”

The clerk replied that this will be done through social media and the local press.

Councillor Cobley said: “We probably going to get in wrong. But we are not going to find it out until it is in practice.”

The mayor moved to adopt proposal V1 (the image above) with the deletion of stalls on Post Office Square because Shropshire Council objected to those. Councillor Perks sought to amend the proposal asking for the market to reopen on 22 June, not 8 June as the council was suggesting. This failed to find a seconder. The motion to reopen the market on 8 June was adopted.

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