SHOCK greeted news this week (September 9) that Midhurst’s farmers’ market could face the axe.
Spiralling costs and falling takings left many traders making a loss – and the Midhurst market is kept afloat only by the Chichester and Petworth farmers’ markets.
The news comes barely a month after the town’s new market square was unveiled in August.
Hopes were high the new square would become home for the market, which currently takes place in North Street once every two months.
“I think now is the time for Midhurst Town Council to start shouting,” said town councillor Steve Morley on Tuesday, in reference to an article in the Observer entitled: A market square that’s worth shouting about, to herald the square’s official opening.
“We need some time to think about options and solutions. All this money has been spent on the market square so it would be nice to have a market there.”
The news about the market’s viability was broken at a meeting of Midhurst Town Council’s finance and general purposes committee on Monday night.
In response to a concern about the market raised at Chichester District Council in July, by Midhurst district councillor Brian Weekes, cabinet member for the environment John Connor and a council officer visited the market to canvas opinion from traders and shoppers.
The pair said in a letter – read out at Monday’s meeting – they found evidence to support Cllr Weekes’ concerns about the viability of the market.
The letter stated stallholders were not supportive of the market and only attended to support the market’s coordinator Pip Frederick.
There were a number of concerns raised by stallholders about not making enough to cover their costs.
According to the letter the public commented on the ‘empty’ nature of the market and the lack of stalls.
It said the Midhurst market was not breaking even and was supported by the Petworth and Chichester farmers’ markets.
It outlined three possible options going forward. Firstly, the market could be closed in Midhurst and moved to Petworth, secondly it could be moved to another location in Midhurst and additional funding sought, thirdly it could be moved to another location outside Midhurst and additional funding sought.
Currently, the Midhurst market is held once every two months, with the Petworth market also held every two months, with the pair alternating.
However, the new arrangement could possibly see a monthly Petworth market and none in Midhurst.
The letter also commented on the fact that market stallholders must now pay business rates – putting further pressure on traders.
It is hoped by many the market can be kept in Midhurst for the foreseeable future, as traders said the future for Midhurst without a farmers’ market would be bleak.
“We would be a market town without markets,” Cllr Morley said at the meeting on Monday.
Councillors spoke of the need to find a solution of how to hold the market in the square, after its restoration from a car park.
Andrew Mitchell, chairman of Midhurst Town Trust said: “I would be very enthusiastic for the markets to carry on in Midhurst.
“It feels like the natural, and indeed, historic, place for a market in the town, and would enhance the use of the square, making it the hub of Midhurst.”