BRIDGEND County Borough Council is locked into a lease on the town’s market hall lasting another 54 years with no break clauses.

This information was obtained by Welsh Conservative Regional AM Suzy Davies from a Freedom of Information request which also revealed that the council pays annual rent, services charges and insurance of £226,000 for the market, which is owned by a private property company. It received rent of £246,000 from stallholders in the last financial year.

Mrs Davies asked these questions after meeting market traders anxious about the future of the market where 11 of the 29 stalls are now empty.

Mrs Davies is urging the council to be more pro-active and more imaginative in getting new tenants. She asked the council what action was being taken to let these stalls and was told they are all on the council’s website and some have marketing boards on them although others do not. A statement said that the council intends to instruct a local letting agent “in due course.”

Mrs Davies said that the council seems to have no sense of urgency. She went on: “The council needs to pull its finger out and start actively promoting Bridgend market to get more tenants in. An exciting market is a draw. Town traders as a whole are explicit in their discontent with the council’s approach to developing town centre retail, as we saw in the recent elections.

“I recently visited the market with Coun Kay Rowlands, who is regeneration spokesman for the Conservative group on the council. We were shocked at the number of empty stalls we saw. There are whole aisles where there are no let stalls.

“It’s very disheartening for the other stallholders who are fighting hard to make a living. I have also asked how much subsidy the market receives from council taxpayers as the cost of its own employees like the market manager is not included in the expenditure listed. There will be less income in this current year because so many stalls are empty and this will result in a larger subsidy needed from taxpayers.”

Mrs Rowlands, who is a Brackla Councillor, said that she was shocked to see so many empty stalls.

She said: “Bridgend market has always been a busy, lively place with lots of hustle and bustle. But with fewer businesses to attract customers, it has lost a lot of that spark. There are some first class businesses in the market and the council owes it to them to put things right.

“The first thing we must do is be more innovative in the way that we let these stalls. People should be given trial tenancies with reduced rents so that they can try out a new business idea before committing themselves to a longer tenancy. We must allow the market to shake off the bureaucratic shackles that are in place now.”

She said that requests from organisations to use the empty stalls to put on displays had been rejected.

“Why? Anything that draws people into the market will help the traders in there and shuttered stalls attract no-one . The council and its staff need a new mindset. It cannot be business as usual as too much has changed. Officers must start thinking laterally to turn the market into a catalyst for the regeneration of the whole town centre.”

Market traders are angry about the loss of the pedestrian link directly into the market from the old Rhiw car park and at the decision to move the Shopmobility service from the Rhiw, which has been demolished,  to the Brackla multi storey. This has also resulted in a drop in trade.

Suzy Davies added: “I welcome the new two-hour free parking scheme in the re-developed Rhiw car park. It’s a start but getting the market right will be key to ensuring that the town centre as a whole prospers and thrives.”