Liberal Democrat city councillors are to take unusual steps to secure the re-opening of Cambridge market.
The market was closed on January 1st amid holiday overcrowding concerns and has remained closed ever since. Under a special provision of the council constitution, opposition councillors are requisitioning an extraordinary meeting of the council to receive the two petitions calling for the market to be re-opened. The petitions together include an unprecedented 8000+ names.
Cllr Josh Matthews, who speaks for the Lib Dems on city centre matters, said:
"Apart from the few stalls selling non-essential items, the market is clearly allowed to open under the government’s current restrictions. Markets around the country have stayed open and managed their queues and crowding. It is a perfectly safe and legal way for Cambridge to shop that benefits local customers, traders, and producers.
"We of course respect the lockdown restrictions on normal and non-essential behaviour designed to keep us all safe. We are as keen as anyone to emphasise how critical it is that we all comply. But people still need to buy food and an open air market is a much safer way to do it. It is self-defeating to keep the market closed - it’s forcing more people into shops.
"We think the original decision to shut the whole market 'until further notice' was an over-reaction to people looking to spend time outdoors and enjoy what they could in the city over the Christmas and New Year holidays. The council has a team of 'Covid marshals' who need to make sure queues are socially distanced and crowds don’t hang around. The council can re-distribute traders between stalls, given the number that aren’t legally allowed to open.
"But even if we disagree about the original closure, what is it that can take over 10 days to organise in order for it to re-open? Good intentions from the council keep being announced, but no date has been defined and still it’s closed. The council comes across as though it’s drifting and dragging its heels.
"We’re reluctant to use this procedure and call for an extraordinary council meeting. It shouldn’t be necessary; though after waiting patiently for a more than an adequate period of time, it seems it is. While we and the traders are still being kept in the dark, we’ve decided we have to use the formal democratic processes of the council. It will take up to a week for a meeting to be formally called and we would be delighted to withdraw this request if the market re-opens within that time and save everyone the trouble.
"The council seems to see only threat to public health through the market being open, whereas the wider community, represented by over 8000 petition signatures, can see that the market’s a vital benefit to the city if the council organises it properly. The market can be safe and traders’ livelihoods can be stabilised if we put the right priority behind this."