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EU rules blamed for high rent fees for Sevenoaks market

European Union rules have prevented a lifeline being thrown to the struggling Wednesday market in Sevenoaks.

Both the Wednesday and Saturday markets used to be run by a private operator on behalf of the landowner, Sevenoaks District Council.

The Sevenoaks sign boasts it is a market town
The Sevenoaks sign boasts it is a market town

But the firm went bust in 2013 owing the district a considerable sum of money.

At the that point Sevenoaks Town Council stepped in with a bid to run the markets that was accepted.

Initially the Wednesday market, which is held behind the bus station in Buckhurst Lane, was successful and the town council succeeded in recruiting a number of new traders.

But over the years, they have withdrawn, and the market was particularly hard-hit by the closure of the Buckhurst car park for redevelopment, when visitor numbers dropped.

They have not returned even though redevelopment is now complete.

Currently there are only three regular traders.

The town council feels the situation is unsustainable: it has to pay the district council an annual fee of £25,985, which is the equivalent of £499.72 a week. The rent it receives from the traders is only £197.50 a week.

So the market has to be subsidised by income from the Saturday market and town council's reinvestment fund.

The traders too are unhappy and just before Christmas petitioned the district council to allow the market to move to the High Street, by Lloyds Bank, the location of the Saturday market.

Subsequently, the town council has requested the district council either allow the relocation of the market or cut the fees it has to pay.

But the district council said no, citing EU regulations.

It said: "Unfortunately, the contract was made under EU procurement rules (found in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015), meaning that our options are tightly regulated.

"The invitation to tender was originally advertised nationally and across the EU.

"The EU procurement rules set out some principles to make sure that it is an even playing field for all and that favourable contracts are not granted to particular companies.

"Changes to a contract should only be allowed where all companies know this beforehand and are given a chance to bid on that basis.

"Regulation 72 of the 2015 Regulations explains the limited circumstances in which we can modify an existing contract.

The Wednesday market
The Wednesday market

"Tenderers were asked to submit bids for the Sevenoaks Markets based on entering the draft contract which was attached.

"The heads of terms clearly set out the location of the Wednesday market.

"Changes are not permitted unless they are explicitly allowed for in the contract documents, where the changes are below a certain value threshold, or the changes fall within some specific other categories.

"In this case the contract did not explicitly allow for reductions in the rent.

"The change in rent would also be larger than what is permitted under the regulations.

The more popular Saturday market
The more popular Saturday market

"In order to reduce the rent for the town council, we would have had to make all bidders aware of this before we awarded the contract.

"If we make a modification to the contract that is not compliant with the rules, then we would be required to carry out a completely new procurement process for this revised contract (reg. 72(9)).

"Therefore, for this reason, it is not open to the district council to agree to the town council's proposals."

The Town Council has not yet called time on the Wednesday market, but it has decided to pursue legal avenues to see whether it is possible to hold an ancient "Charter Market" in the High Street, without the need for either the District Council's permission or the need to pay their fees.

Lib Dem Town Councillor Tony Clayton did not believe the EU story, but warned: "The traders have said they can hold on until Christmas, but then they will quit as they are not making any money with the Wednesday market in its current site.

"Then we’ll have to change the town sign!"

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