Lib Dem city councillors have questioned the Council's plan to close Cambridge's market, after the snap decision was taken without consultation with traders or councillors on Wednesday.
The opposition feels the move, which is not consistent with government guidance permitting takeaway and essential businesses to keep operating, has shown disrespect to traders and customers alike.
Asking for the decision to be reviewed after a week, they are asking why the council’s Covid marshalls could not be deployed to organise social distancing and for full compensation to be provided by the council.
Cllr Josh Matthews, Lib Dem spokesperson on the city centre, said:
“It’s good the council is being vigilant about risks of transmitting the virus, and acting quickly based on Public Health advice but the decision they have made in this instance leaves me somewhat confused and uncomfortable. Businesses selling the same goods can continue if they operate within shops, which runs counter to the greater risks of being inside versus in the open air. The market’s greengrocers, bakers, and other essential stalls operated safely during the first lockdown and I’m unsure why this couldn’t be the case once again. This decision may well drive more people into shops. The market traders operate in competition with these shops, making this decision particularly tough for self-employed people whose livelihoods have been on the line this past year.
“It’s obviously unwelcome that people aren’t socially distancing, but aren’t situations like this the exact reason why the council has employed a team of Covid marshals? With much of the city centre closed, surely their effort could be channelled into helping organise the market's queueing? Or has this been tried and failed?”
“The decision the council has made is apparently ‘until further notice’, which gives traders little to go on. We are calling on the council to review it after only one week. The conditions they describe of crowds congregating in the market square may last no longer than the current holiday week, when people are not working and looking to get outside and enjoy what they can in Cambridge. This could look very different next week, when many will be back at work.
“And however long this goes on, the council must come up with some convincing and easily accessible compensation for the traders. Because their businesses have been closed by council decision rather than government restrictions, we are worried that they won’t have the same access to financial support that non-essential businesses can receive because the government has said they must close. Other attempts at compensating self employed people have been complex to navigate and hit and miss for recipients.”
Update (1st January 2021)
Cambridge Lib Dem Councillors have launched a petition calling for the market to be reopened.
Market Ward councillor Tim Bick commented: "Controlling the spread of COVID-19 is critical at this time of rising infections, but moves like this risk being counterproductive. Many residents have contacted us in shock that they will be forced to shop indoors, having used the market for their essential items throughout 2020 until now. This decision risks damaging community cohesion at a time when it is so important that we pull together.
"Having convened an urgent meeting to investigate the closure of the market, we were pleased to secure confirmation that this decision would be reviewed from this coming week - earlier than previously stated. Nonetheless, we remain unconvinced of the case for keeping the market closed when Covid marshals should be able to engage with problematic crowds proactively. It seems clear to us that the city centre will be far less busy later this week with the Christmas holidays ended and therefore the market should reopen."