Published: 14:25, 21 October 2021
| Updated: 13:50, 22 October 2021
A popular market thought to have been operating in Canterbury for almost 700 years is to be booted out of the high street for good as part of a £1 million city centre makeover.
The city council has been accused of making the "completely and utterly wrong" decision to press ahead with its controversial plan to redesign the top section of St George's Street.
It means the pavement and trees on the "unsightly" stretch between McDonald's and Metro Bank will be ripped up and replaced with a boulevard-style avenue.
New seating and lighting is to be installed, along with a space for events and a new row of trees.
Yet there will be no place for the long-standing market, with stallholders being kicked out in a bid to spruce up the high street's "tired" appearance.
It is thought licences for a variety of markets in the city were chartered way back in 1453.
And the last one standing - the twice-weekly general market - is now to be cut from existence in January 2023 when the high street revamp begins.
In its stead, space will be created for activities and events to come and go - such as the Medieval Pageant, Pride, large-screen showings and art installations.
Like a host of other towns and cities, Canterbury's market has had a nomadic existence - moving locations over the course of centuries and decades.
Yet it has always been present. A written account dated 1800 from historian Edward Hasted details a twice-weekly market in the city, in which he describes it being "plentifully supplied with all kind of provisions".
Despite its history, council bosses - who first thought up a plan to ditch stallholders in 2016 - have now gained the green light to modify the high street.
A special regeneration committee meeting to solely discuss the St George's Street scheme was held last night, with members voting in favour of the renovation project.
Opposition councillors voiced their dismay at the plans, and accused the authority of trying to "gentrify" the top end of the high street.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Connie Nolan (Lab) said: "It is a very sad day.
"I don't even think the council realise that they are ending such a historic tradition.
"It is such a shame that Conservative councillors are whipped into voting things through like nodding dogs.
"There was one councillor who had no papers in front of them and was there just to wake up and vote. I'm absolutely aghast by it.
"The present traders will lose their market trading rights and will have to apply for street trader licences.
"This means they will pay more and the council has total control over who is granted a licence to trade. As the market traders they are now, there is no control so you could have two fruit stalls no problem."
Following last night's vote, a review of trading pitches across the city will be undertaken.
The council says it will "try and accommodate as many of the existing traders as possible" elsewhere in Canterbury, but they will not be grouped together as a 'market'.
Former Labour leader Cllr Alan Baldock said: "Canterbury's ability to have a general market is taken away forever. There will never ever be a general market in Canterbury ever again.
"There will never ever be a general market in Canterbury ever again..."
"There will be street traders, but there will not be a market. The licence was passed for that way back in 1453."
Other councillors argued how removing traders in favour of events space was an "insult", and others criticised the plans to uproot five mature trees.
Yet, speaking at the meeting, market traders themselves revealed how they now have a more positive outlook on the proposed changes.
Fresh fruit and veg stallholder Jeb Hughes, whose calls for cherries and strawberries are well-known by any Canterbury regular, says it will be sad to wave farewell to his spot but believes "not everything is lost".
He and Canterbury Market Traders' Association chairman Steve Bamber say recent talks with the council have shown signs of positivity.
"I have no idea where I'll be in January 2023 - I may have to accept I'll no longer be able to trade at the top end of the high street," he said.
"Hopefully I will be able to remain close by and offer a service to the public they have become used to over the years.
"I am disappointed that the council will not be bringing the market street traders along with them on this regeneration project.
"But not everything is lost, hopefully we have found a solution to a major problem.
"Pitches will be made available for street traders to use around Rose Lane, St Peters Street and The Parade. A committee will be formed and we hope to be able to fit in traders under a street trader banner.
"Hopefully no one loses their business. I believe we can trust this council to include us, not exclude us, as I felt we were never really valued before."
Mr Hughes also called on the council to rectify the high level of anti-social behaviour which tarnishes the high street.
He said: "I beg you to fix the lawlessness that plagues my place of work. With all the money you are investing, you must first solve the crime problem.
"On a daily basis, I have to put up with prostitution, fighting, drinking, drug abuse, swearing, spitting, urinating and general disregard for anyone lawful."
Richard Moore, the authority's head of transport and environment, says the regeneration will be a welcome boost to the city.
"You invest in your public realm, you attract people into your town centres," he said.
"There's no reason to believe it won't work well here.
"The market is due to lose the council £39,000 this year."
A report compiled by Mr Moore and put before councillors ahead of the meeting highlighted the council's current perception of St George's Street.
"It has been recognised for many years that the appearance of St George's Street has been gradually declining," it reads.
"As one of the main shopping areas in the city centre the proposed investment will improve the quality and character of the street so that it is restored as one of Canterbury’s most prestigious areas for shopping and visiting.
"Results of a public consultation demonstrate that 66.6% of respondents agree with the proposals to improve the appearance and there is a majority in favour of all the proposed design features."
The current aesthetic of the top end of the high street is deemed to have a "detrimental" impact on the allure of the city for potential tenants wanting to move into Whitefriars.
The renovation plans, which include making space for the long-mooted statue of Christopher Marlowe, would see an existing row of trees chopped down and a new one planted.
While the repaving work will begin in 2023, the trees are set to be cut down next year.
More than 2,000 people signed a petition to save the market, but following last night's decision, licences for the 14 pitches will be revoked.
Eight councillors voted in favour, while five objected.