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Why Cambridge market trader says he will have to throw away £5,000 of plants

A trader has invited council officials and a councillor to a ‘bereavement ceremony’ in Cambridge’s market square to watch him shove all of his flowers and plants into a trash compactor.

Phil Graves, of Peter Graves Flower in Girton. Picture: Keith Heppell
Phil Graves, of Peter Graves Flower in Girton. Picture: Keith Heppell

Phil Graves will throw away £5,000 of stock after a last-minute notice from the council that his stall must be closed. He was allowed to sell plants on his stall during lockdown because he was considered an ‘essential trader’. But now he has been sent notice that his stall is no longer considered essential under government Covid-19 regulations – and his pitch is being handed over to someone else.

It comes after the city council announced that street food and hot drinks stalls would be allowed to reopen from Wednesday March 17.

Phil, from Girton, said: “I was absolutely stunned when I received an email last Friday showing that my stall was now going to be used by a hot food trader. We were given absolutely no notice about this as we have been operating on the market during lockdown as essential traders.

“Now we are suddenly considered non-essential. But I have already ordered stock that will take me up to Easter. I can’t sell the flowers anywhere else or sell them to wholesalers because I don’t have the necessary licenses. So this means that all the plants and flowers – about £5,000 of stock – will have to go in the bin. It’s heartbreaking.

Cambridge market has barriers and guidelines to promote social distancing. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge market has barriers and guidelines to promote social distancing. Picture: Keith Heppell

“So I have invited councillors and officers to come to my ‘bereavement ceremony’ in the market square where they can watch me put all of my flowers and plants into the rubbish compactor there because they can’t be sold now. It’s a bit tongue in cheek, but I want them to know what happens when they don’t communicate with traders or give them any notice so they don’t buy stock they can’t use.”

The market was closed down with little no notice on new year’s day following council fears that it was attracting crowds that could increase the spread of Covid-19. Following a petition, traders selling fresh fruit, vegetables and other food produce were allowed to reopen from January 18, with new barriers and signage in place to encourage distancing.

Today’s reopening of hot food and drink stalls had been called for by traders. But Bill Proud, Cambridge Market Traders Association spokesperson, said: “Plants and soap are considered essential items by the government but four or five traders who sell those items are still not being asked back.

“It’s good news that some people are going back because it means they will have some income again. While other markets have been allowed to run with all essential traders operating, hot food traders have been kept away from Cambridge’s market until now.”

Cambridge City Council said it had worked closely with the Cambridgeshire County Council’s public health team, market trader representatives and health and safety specialists, to assess risks and put in place management measures to deal with them.

“The council’s priority is for the market to reopen safely for shoppers and traders,” it said. “Reopening must reflect national and local coronavirus restrictions and associated management risks. These include potential overcrowding and lack of social distancing leading to increases in infection rates and local outbreaks.”

Cambridge market has barriers and guidelines to promote social distancing. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge market has barriers and guidelines to promote social distancing. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Rosy Moore, executive councillor for climate change, environment and city centre, will not take up Phil’s invitation.

“I won’t be going to the bereavement ceremony as I don’t believe that counts as essential,” she said. “We are aiming for all traders to return on April 12 but we will be going through risk assessments and getting sign-off from public health first. The markets team thought that plants and flowers were counted as essential but once the government guidance came out in full it was realised they weren’t.”

A city council spokesperson added: “In accordance with the government guidance, available at the time, and the public health approved initial market reopening plan, the council has allowed licensed traders to sell indoor plants and outdoor potted plants on the market since January 18.

“As well as allowing traders to return to sell these products direct to customers, the council has also permitted these traders to operate a ‘click and collect’ sales operation for cut flowers from behind a physical screen on their stall.

“However, now, based on updated government guidance and the latest approved market reopening plan, the council is, unfortunately, no longer able to allow licensed traders to continue the sale of indoor plants and outdoor potted plants on the market; or any associated cut flower ‘click and collect’ service.”

The council added it was “sorry” it could enable licensed plant and florist traders to continue to trade, but would be open to challenge if it deviated from government guidance.

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