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An “exciting new multi-million-pound redevelopment scheme” reads the council press release for its plans for Caerphilly Indoor Market, but no mention of the uncertainty faced by the traders who rely on it for their livelihoods.
The council wants to demolish the building for housing and office space. Caerphilly Observer has been told up to 74 flats could be built on the area.
There can be no argument that something needs to be done to the market, which has stood for almost 100 years.
The Pentrebane Street building, which also encompasses the former Checkmate/Pulsars nightclub, is an eyesore and either needs to be replaced or significantly renovated.
The Caerphilly Basin Masterplan in 2018 highlighted the importance of the market to the town’s history.
It states: “This privately owned building offers the low rent accommodation that many start-up retail businesses require and is an important part of the foundational economy.”
Other indoor markets in Wales have had investment, for example Newport, and Caerphilly should too.
However, it seems Caerphilly County Borough Council is intent on ignoring its own plan and moving the traders out – with no firm idea of where they are going to go.
The market was dealt a huge blow in the 1990s when Castle Court Shopping Centre was opened. Woolworths and Boots – two big high street names at the time – moved to the new development. Footfall declined as a result and the market eventually closed with plans for a skate park being mooted but never materialising.
In 2010 it was reopened and since then traders have resolutely carried on.
Many of the traders lay some of the blame for the market’s recent problems at the door of the council. They argue on-street parking restrictions have deterred customers and that the local authority have put “obstacles” in the way of the owners turning the upper floors into flats.
Kevin Grant, who runs Castle Tackle and Bait, contacted Caerphilly Observer when council officers first revealed the latest plans.
He said: “It’s just wrong. There are around 20 people that work in the market.
“If the council had let the owners do what they wanted to do – it was in the best interests of the market.”
A warning sign that something was happening was when the 13 or so traders were asked to sign new agreements by the owners ending their licence to trade in August this year, although its terms also mean traders and Westway can give each other a month’s notice to end it.
Linda Reed, who runs Ed’s Attic Records, said: “They want to move us out en masse, but there are no premises big enough.”
She added: “I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I think the council have acted appallingly.”
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Leigh Richards runs a cobblers stall. He said: “I’m gutted. I had a feeling something was going to happen, but I’ve been kept in the dark by the owners and the council.
“[When the council visited us] that was the first time we knew for definite that we were going to go, but it’s still a shock. What do they want to put here?”
Working with Linc Housing, the council intends to buy the property, either through negotiating with owner Westway Properties or through a Compulsory Purchase Order. It has said it will use Welsh Government Money to do this, then sell it to Linc Cymru Housing Association which will build flats and office space.
Caerphilly Bird Rescue moved into the market in November last year, following the death of co-founder Ray Gravenor.
Carol Gravenor, who runs the service, wanted to continue the work of her late husband and said the atmosphere in the market was irreplaceable.
She said: “I’m absolutely heartbroken.”
Many of the traders pay as little as £375 a month in rent, which includes bills.
Rents for shops on the high street usually start at around £1,000 a month and do not include utilities or business rates.
What form of support the council can give is unclear.
A petition to “save our market” has been launched by Mr Grant, with more than 500 people having signed it.
A Caerphilly County Borough Council spokesperson said the council was working with the traders and that discussions were underway with them.
In a statement it said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on commercially sensitive discussions with individual businesses, however we can confirm that all the traders have been spoken to individually at their request and received consistent messages from the council.
“We are working hard to meet the needs of these traders and retain their businesses within the town centre wherever possible.”
It is unclear what surrounding properties would be included in the development. These include shops on Clive Street, and the old Boots and Woolworths buildings on Pentrebane Street.
Caerphilly Council said Linc was currently considering the full extent of the boundary of the proposed development.
In the press release announcing the scheme, deputy leader of Caerphilly Council, Cllr Jamie Pritchard said: “This is such an exciting scheme for Caerphilly and signals the start of a bold new future for the town.
“A key part of the process is to fully engage and work closely with the current market traders. We have met with traders to discuss their requirements going forward and we will do everything possible to accommodate their needs in terms of business support and relocation in Caerphilly. The current, privately–owned building is not fit for purpose, so we want to explore opportunities for a much-improved market as part of our regeneration plans”.
“I want to assure residents and the local business community that we will deliver this scheme in close co-operation with all interested parties to ensure that we deliver a scheme which is fit for purpose, while complementing and enhancing the wider town centre.”
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