Food markets are set to restart from Tuesday, May 26, after West Suffolk Council agreed strict ways of protecting shoppers and stall owners.
The safety of the public, traders and staff is the primary concern for the council which will review at the end of every market session.
The markets were stopped due to a lack of staffing and a need to prioritise other essential Covid-19 responses. However, following careful planning the markets will be re-opened in a phased way, following government guidance, with food-only stalls, starting in Newmarket from next Tuesday.
Markets play an important role in the local economy, as part of the essential local food chain, as outlets for local growers and as part of the mixed retail offer of the town centre. The phased approach to restarting reflects support for the high street, beginning with food traders only (no take-aways) to embed social distancing and safety.
The first markets will be held at Newmarket on Tuesday and Saturday, May 26 and 30; at Bury St Edmunds on Wednesday and Saturday, May 27 and 30; at Brandon on Thursday and Saturday, May 28 and 30; at Mildenhall on Friday, May 29, and at Haverhill on Friday and Saturday, May 29 and 30.
The initial market held in each of the five towns will be shorter, running from 9am to 2pm. Every market has a new layout allowing ample space supported by clear signage for two-metre social distancing whether moving around or queuing. Traders will be providing contactless payment where possible, will use hand sanitiser and work with customers to ensure safe queuing. Customers are asked to wash their hands as often as they can, and to keep a safe distance.
Phase two will be to bring back other permitted traders, for example plant stalls, and to review the operating hours. Phase three will be reviewed in light of government guidance on non-essential retail, expected no earlier than Monday, June 1.
Although staffing numbers still remains an issue West Suffolk Council has been working closely with traders to see how some of this burden can be shared. Markets operate as part of the essential food supply chain and the open-air nature helps people keep social distancing.
The council is continuing to lobby the government for grant support for its permanent market traders, as some are not eligible for national funding. For those unable to get national grant support, the pitch fee will be waived for up to the first two months of trading from the start of the markets next week while awaiting clarification from government on grant guidance. This will be kept under review.
West Suffolk Council continues to pay business rates on its markets which last year amounted to £65,500, as well as business improvement district levies on this in Bury and Newmarket.
John Griffiths, leader of West Suffolk Council, said: ‘I am very pleased to confirm that initially food-only markets will be open again starting from 26 May, albeit with agreed strict measures to ensure this is safe for both the public and stallholders. This could not be happening without assurances in place and I would like to thank our traders for working with us and their help on this.
“The markets will of course be kept under close review but their reinstatement is an important step in the recovery of the town centre and businesses and in anticipation of shops beginning to trade again in early June.
“As part of this recovery, our council is also lobbying government for grant support for our permanent traders and should that help not be confirmed will be offering two months without pitch fees to help them establish their businesses again. We would ask shoppers to do their part, keep their distance and continue to follow government guidance in protecting lives and livelihoods.”