By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter
Some of the last remaining traders in the Victoria Centre Market say they are stressed and unable to sleep at night as they await answers over their futures following Nottingham City Council’s effective bankruptcy.
The Labour-run council announced in January last year it wanted to bring an end to its lease on the market in a bid to save £39m over 50 years.
Negotiations for an early exit had been taking place with centre asset managers Global Mutual, and the remaining traders, to determine how much compensation they were owed.
However, the council said compensation sums for most traders had gone above its agreed budget, and negotiations with Global Mutual fell through after the deadline to vacate the market by March was missed.
While the council says it still wants to end the lease due to costs, the market has remained open.
Carole Lilley, who runs ‘Carole’s’, an underwear stall, has been trading at the market for 38 years.
She said: “I don’t sleep at night. I’m lucky if I get three, four hours sleep. I’m up and down all night really concerned about what is happening to me.
“I was told last year to stay because I was going to be compensated, so really 12 months down the line and I’m going further into debt.”
She explained being surrounded by empty units, combined with what she says is a lack of security, has left her vulnerable to theft.
“I’m continuously having things stolen from the side of my stall,” she said.
“If you’re not taking much money and someone is stealing £20 to £30 off you a couple of times a week, it makes the whole point of coming in to work impossible. ”
At a meeting in June, attended by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, traders were also told new businesses would be accepted on short-term licences.
The decision to welcome new traders came as a shock and left traders with more questions.
Sonam Honber, from Nepal, set up a stall in the market 10 days ago and has a temporary lease.
He sells hand-crafted knitted items including slippers, bags and toys, many of them made by his wife.
“It has been quite quiet,” he said. “Not many people are coming here.
“I thought it was going to be busy, these times, people can spend some money on presents or gifts or something.
“I thought I would rent temporarily but it is not very good at the moment. It is difficult to sell.
“Not many people come to the market and people cannot pay the rent to stay here, so that is why they left. We need more people, businesses, coming here.
“The council they need to do something. Manage. Manage people coming here and more businesses will open. They need to try something a different way.”
The council has been subsidising the market after former shopping centre owner intu put the rent up in 2014.
A condition survey has been undertaken on the market, and bringing it up to scratch would cost in the region of £2m, while an overall investment scheme would cost £10m.
Traders have questioned how the council’s recent issuing of a Section 114 notice, effectively declaring bankruptcy amid a £23m in-year budget gap, will impact their futures.
So far this year the council says the market has adversely added £700,000 to its budget “due to a combination of income shortfall and unbudgeted service charges”.
Nick Clark, of Cobblers and Keys, added: “We have no lift from the car park, we have no working toilets, and no loading bay to unload stock.
“One new trader has been let in since June, yet they have loads of people wanting to come on the market.
“I personally want some clarity from the council for my business and future. Why not try and get behind the market and reduce its losses?”
A spokesperson for Victoria Centre said previously: “The market is run and operated by Nottingham City Council and they have been – and remain – fully responsible for all decisions regarding its future.
“We continue to seek greater clarity from Nottingham City Council on their long-term position regarding the continued operation of the market.”
The council has been contacted for comment. It said previously it has “committed to work with traders on next steps.”