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Hundreds sign petition to 'save' Canterbury city centre market

Hundreds of people have signed a petition to "save" Canterbury market.

The popular network of stalls has been put at risk of closure by the city council's plans to transform the high street into a leafy boulevard.

How St George's Street would look
How St George's Street would look

The £630,000 scheme aims to turn "tired" St George's Street - with its "unattractive post-war shop frontages" and uneven pavement - into an open walkway with an avenue of trees, new seating, lighting, a fountain, and space for art and performance.

But a casualty of the revamp will be the market - where up to 40 stallholders will permanently lose their pitches if it goes ahead.

In a report to the council's policy and resources committee, officers said the market is deterring potential new tenants of Whitefriars shopping centre from taking up units. The centre's operator New River highlights the stalls as a "primary risk to the operation of the shopping centre as it is seen as detrimental to the area."

But the market's closure would put the livelihood of stallholders at risk, said worried vendors at a meeting of the council's policy and resources committee on Thursday.

Father-of-two Jeb Hughes, who has run a fruit and vegetable stall in Canterbury for 16 years, said he is "very concerned" about how the plans will affect his family.

'Save our market' banners have popped up at Canterbury market
'Save our market' banners have popped up at Canterbury market

"I have staff to pay for and I have to provide for my family and I am now very, very concerned about what's about to happen," he said.

"Canterbury council are suggesting a regeneration take place in an area that is so clearly serving the public, with an idea to remove its market and its street traders."

While he agrees St George's Street should be "smartened up", he feels the council should focus upon antisocial behaviour.

"The place is full, I'm afraid to say, with drunks, drug-taking people, violence, and general misbehaviour," he said. "We need police, not people putting up trees in the high street to make it look good.

"It is our high street. We are there for the community of Canterbury, and we have served it for a very long time.

"I work 17 hours a day, four days a week. I pay tax, national insurance, wages and pensions. I run vehicles and run households with my business, and this can be taken away from me.

A petition has been launched to save the market in Canterbury city centre (29788056)
A petition has been launched to save the market in Canterbury city centre (29788056)

"Street trading and market trading has been in the centre of Canterbury for hundreds and hundreds of years. The market is the heart and soul of Canterbury city centre. It gives you revenue - it gives you character.

"I cannot begin to tell you how many students I sell fresh fruit and veg to, how many elderly people I provide with affordable produce throughout the year, and how many tourists turn up in the sun and want Kentish strawberries, raspberries, cherries.

"I would like to know why this council thinks making a large number of people jobless, a good few people potentially homeless, and a massive hole in the middle of Canterbury city council a good idea."

Steven Bamber, chairman of the Canterbury Market Traders Association, echoed Mr Hughes' concerns.

Mr Bamber, who has been trading in the city for more than 20 years, said: "It has caused a lot of anxiety and stress to all our traders. Most are family run businesses - that could mean two to three people could be made redundant just from one business."

Steve Bamber, chair of the Canterbury Market Traders Association
Steve Bamber, chair of the Canterbury Market Traders Association

Cllr Michael Dixey added: "I really do have huge reservations about losing the market.

"Maybe some of the bigger stores don't like it much, but Canterbury is for everybody, not just the well-off, and I really hope the market will not suffer."

Caroline Hicks, head of business and regeneration at the city council, explained the thinking behind the plans.

"We've got a very run-down streetscape," she said. "We've got a very small city, with not a lot of spaces within it.

"St George's Street itself is one of the highest footfall areas of the city - but two days a week it is, at the moment, used solely as a market. And the rest of the time, in its current state, is not the most welcoming of places.

A petition has been launched to save the market in Canterbury city centre (29788063)
A petition has been launched to save the market in Canterbury city centre (29788063)

"We've looked at how other city centres and town centres are doing things.

"What we're really interested to see is how we can create a changing dynamic place that people want to enjoy using and enjoy using in a positive way. And at the moment, I personally don't feel St George's is that."

Stallholders have now launched a petition to "save our market", which had already garnered an estimated 650 signatures by Friday lunchtime.

The plans will be put out to public consultation by the council, for a period of eight weeks.

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury

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