Published: 12:01, 28 November 2019
Not enough is being done to support a struggling town centre market, it has been claimed.
Traders say high rental charges, lack of facilities and scant publicity means the number of stalls in Folkestone has dwindled to an average of 10.
That number would have been three times higher a decade ago, says manager Paul Clark.
The 56-year-old, who has run a household stall for 30 years, thinks Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC), which runs the market, could do more to help increase footfall.
Mr Clark said: "If you Google markets, loads comes up for Rye's, but nothing for Folkestone's.
"There are even trips that leave this town and go to Rye.
"There are not even sign posts to the Folkestone market."
Goods on offer at the Sandgate Road market include flowers, men's and women's clothing, toiletries such as bathbombs, a greengrocers, household items, a bakery and bags.
Food such as hot dogs, sweets and waffles are also available.
Mr Clark, from Ashford, says traders come and go, but they average about 10 stalls on Thursday and Saturdays, the trading days in Folkestone.
"Folkestone was a good market and one of the cheapest but now it's one of the most expensive," he said. "The council puts the price up and up."
Mr Clark now offers rent reductions; he says FHDC charge £3.50 per foot, meaning it costs £35 for a 10ft space.
But Mr Clark takes £20 from traders.
He said: "If I didn't do that we wouldn't have a market.
"The price went from 50p a foot, to £1 and now it's £3.50. But we don't give us much for that - we get the pitch, two rubbish bins and a bit of electric.
"We have to use pubs or restaurants for toilets. There's no long stay car parking.
"This really puts off traders."
In comparison, at Faversham and Sittingbourne markets, where Mr Clark also works, it costs £1 per foot, toilets are available, as is free parking.
When asked what the solution is to return Folkestone's market to what it once was, Mr Clark said advertising it would be a good place to start.
He adds: "This is my livelihood. But the market does bring people into the town.
"As an example, about two years ago we decided to close one year in January, because it was too cold.
"Wilkinsons complained and said it was its worse year. We've now opened back up again in January.
"If you go to town on a Tuesday it's dead and it's much busier on a Thursday and Saturday."
The topic of the "neglected" market was raised at a FHDC meeting last week.
In a question directed at leader Cllr David Monk, Cllr Laura Davison (Lab) said: "Folkestone market was renowned all over Kent and parts of London, possibly even further afield for its famous market; which drew many people into our town, boosting trade for local businesses.
"Over the years the market has been neglected.
"The traders are charged the most when it comes to rent in Kent and get less in return compared to other markets, no toilet facilities, no parking facilities and a dwindling footfall."
"I understand that Folkestone Town Council (FTC) would like to take this on and make it a prime area for the town centre, increasing the size of the market, introducing a wider selection of stalls and making it an affordable and profitable living for the traders by introducing fair rents with decent facilities and helping to increase the footfall."
She then asked if FHDC would 'consider giving the town council absolute rights to running and restoring our market to its former glories?'.
Cllr Monk (Con) responded: "Like many general markets, Folkestone market has declined over the years.
"The traders indicate that they have traditionally provided lower cost options for consumers but this role has been contested by the growth of online trading.
"The council is seeking ways to revitalise the High Streets, for example through the £3m High Streets Fund, and role of markets is proposed to be considered next year."
A spokesman for FHDC added: "We are aware of some of the issues raised, and we will be bringing forward a strategy to cover all markets in 2020.
"Our proposals will include reviewing and recommending options for the management of the Sandgate Road market street in Folkestone that we currently operate.
"This will include considering an option to procure an independent operator to run this on our behalf and - if this is the chosen option - then Folkestone Town Council would be welcome to apply to run this market."
FTC said it would consider taking on the running of the market. A spokesman said: "We have looked into taking on the market before so I am sure council would be interested in opening discussions again."