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Belfast market traders' anger after council refuses rent reprieve during coronavirus crisis

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St George’s Market in Belfast was shut on March 16 as lockdown began

St George’s Market in Belfast was shut on March 16 as lockdown began

St George’s Market in Belfast was shut on March 16 as lockdown began

Market traders have reacted with fury after Belfast City Council (BCC) publicly rejected their request for a rent reprieve without telling them first.

At the first virtual meeting of the strategic policy and resources committee on Friday, council chief executive Suzanne Wylie announced the resumption of trade at Smithfield and St George's markets on June 22 and July 3 respectively.

The committee heard St George's Market traders had asked the council to waive their £25 stall fees - but members voted against the waiver.

Ms Wylie said fees normally covered the costs of St George's, but with the market already at a loss of £300,000 due to lockdown and a reduction of stalls, she argued a fees waiver would leave the council at a loss of over half a million pounds.

Cathy McLaverty, chair of the St George's Traders Committee, said she was "furious that we weren't informed of this decision beforehand".

"We wrote to the chief executive on June 3 asking for a rent holiday for market traders for six months to December," she said.

"Larger retailers and hospitality venues are getting a rates reprieve to March 2021, but sole traders can't avail of rate and rent holidays or the various grants of between £10,000 and £25,000.

"We were told we could apply for Universal Credit or self-employed income support - but the latter takes nine weeks to arrive and is for personal, not business, expenses." She added: "We also pointed out that in 2012 we got a rent reprieve for three months due to the flag protests and we strongly feel that a pandemic is a much bigger obstruction to our livelihoods."

Ms McLaverty, who runs a stall selling jewellery and ladies' accessories and represents 200 traders in St George's, said their letter "hadn't even been acknowledged".

"I'm very angry that nobody informed us of this decision before it became public knowledge," she said.

"We were delighted to learn that we could reopen on July 3 but this takes the topping off the cake.

"Other councils have helped their market traders but Belfast City Council has let us down," she added.

St George's shut on March 16 just as traders were preparing for increased traffic in the spring and summer and had spent money ahead of the expected boost.

Sean McCann, who has run his Sizzle & Roll stand in St George's Market for around 15 years, said that stall owners pay a substantial amount of money to Belfast City Council to operate their businesses.

"I'm absolutely disgusted and shocked; I just can't believe it," he said.

A BCC spokeswoman said: "Elected members of council's strategic policy and resources committee agreed that fees for stallholders at St George's Market would not be waived."

St George's Market will have a reduced capacity when it reopens, with only 80 to 100 stalls in operation, and each trader limited to one stall each.

Belfast Telegraph