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Lib Dems question city council’s decision to close Cambridge market

Cambridge City Councillor Josh Matthews (43785911)
Cambridge City Councillor Josh Matthews (43785911)

Lib Dem city councillors have questioned the council’s plan to close Cambridge's market after the decision was taken on Wednesday (December 30) without consultation with traders or Market ward's councillors.

They say the move, which is not consistent with government guidance permitting takeaway and essential businesses to keep operating, has shown disrespect to traders and customers.

The council closed the market from New Year's Day until further notice after discussions with public health partners. Cllr Rosy Moore, executive councillor for climate change, environment and city centre, said they “haven’t taken this decision lightly but it is clear that we have a rapidly rising rate of coronavirus cases in Cambridge and we need people to act now to keep themselves and keep their loved ones safe.”

The Lib Dems are asking why the council’s Covid marshals 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 the risks of transmitting the virus, but the decision they have made in this instance leaves me and Market ward’s councillors 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 we’re 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?”

Cambridge market. Picture: Keith Heppell (43785905)
Cambridge market. Picture: Keith Heppell (43785905)

Cllr Moore said the the situation was “very difficult for market traders who rely on their stalls for their livelihood” and that the council would support them and reopen the market as soon as it was confident that it is safe to do so.

The market will be closed until further notice but the Lib Dems are calling on the council to review the decision after one week.

Cllr Matthews said: “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.”

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