Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)

Wednesday 12 May 2004


1. CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon, Mr Thompson.

2. MR THOMPSON: Good afternoon, Madam Chairman.

3. CHAIRMAN: The Clerk will proceed to read the title of the Bill. Before that I will go through the process of introducing myself and my colleagues. I am Sylvia Heal, I have the privilege of chairing this Committee this afternoon. On my immediate left is Mr Peter Bottomley, and we have also Sir John Butterfill and John Austin. On my immediate right we have Speaker's Counsel.

4. MR THOMPSON: Thank you, Madam. My name is Paul Thompson, from Bircham Dyson Bell, the Parliamentary Agent to the Bill. Can I introduce the two representatives from Ipswich Borough Council straightaway? I have with me Paul Chippendale, who is Head of Economic Development and Property, and Paul Turner, the Corporate Legal Adviser and Monitoring Officer for Ipswich.

5. As you know, this Bill is promoted by Ipswich Borough Council and concerns the market.

6. CHAIRMAN: I wonder if I could just ask you to pause so that the Clerk can read the title of the Bill, and then we can go into it.

7. THE CLERK: Ipswich Market Bill.

8. MR THOMPSON: That is indeed the Bill I was going to speak to. Can I begin by circulating a photo and two plans? (Same handed) The photo shows the market in operation at the centre of Ipswich, and you will find two plans which I have put behind the photo. The first plan shows the square in the middle of the town centre and there is a strange shape within the square which is the current market. The dark delineated line encompasses the existing square and the streets that are the subject of this Bill. We have also given you a further plan; this has got a lot of lines on it but its only purpose is to show you the existing position of the stallholders' stalls in front of the Town Hall.

9. If you go back to the picture, you can see the stalls with their brightly coloured awnings; that is the Grade II listed Town Hall behind it and the Grade II Post Office building, which is no longer a post office. That is in the historic centre of Ipswich.

10. The purpose of the Bill, as I believe you are aware, is to make new provision for the regulation of the market in Ipswich. In particular, it would enable the market to be expanded onto land that is currently part of the highway in these streets that are referred to in the Bill. Parliamentary authority is needed for this expansion because holding a market on a public highway without statutory authority is liable to be taken to infringe the public right to pass along the highway and could constitute a number of offences under the Highways Act 1980.

11. The Council's right to hold a market in this instance derives from a Royal Charter granted by Edward II in 1317, which was confirmed by a further Charter granted by Henry VII in 1518. The Charters, it seems, codified the basis upon which a market could be held in Ipswich and the associated privileges with that which, it appears, can be traced back to Saxon times. In exercise of those powers, the Council holds a craft market and general provisions market, as they are called, at a small site in Cornhill, as shown in that photograph, in the town centre, and it moved there in May 2002 after a plan to move the market to a proposed shopping centre fell through. The market has had a number of locations but before it moved to Cornhill in 2002 it had been at the Civic Centre car park for about 18 years, which holds the main local authority offices just to the west of the town centre.

12. The market currently comprises 10 stalls that operate under the Royal Charter, supplemented by 9 street trading licences on adjacent highways. Market days are Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with extra days at Christmas and Easter, but the standard operation is a three-day market.

13. A company owned by the regular stallholders presently operates the market. It took over this role on the insolvency of the previous market operator in 2001. Whilst I think this does not directly relate to the content of the Bill it may be helpful to your Committee if I also mention that there has been a little bit of local controversy about the management of the market lately, which may have come to your attention. The Council had proposed to put the management of the market - not the market itself but the management of the market - out to competitive tender in accordance with general market testing principles and pursuant to its duty to deliver Best Value, as it is called in local government terms. This was intended to be entirely without prejudice to the continuing role of the stallholders in running the market, but perhaps naturally it did cause a considerable degree of concern amongst the existing stallholders who felt it might affect their livelihoods, and a petition was got up and there was a degree of local contention about this.

14. Happily that has now been resolved and the Council has agreed to open negotiations with the existing market trading company, run by the stallholders, with a view to entering into a new contract with them, and these negotiations are being held on an exclusive basis. So whilst there has been a degree of contention on that part that may have come to your attention - and Council representatives can tell you more about this - the general position is that we believe that has been resolved.

15. Returning to more general issues, the relocation of the market in 2000 and the current arrangements for it were always intended as a temporary measure, pending the expansion of the market. Advice from market consultants, Michael Felton Associates, had indicated to the Council that in order to ensure the market's viability and its continued running there needs to be space for approximately 40 stalls to provide for a competitive mix of traders. Presently, as I have advised, the market comprises only 19 stalls. A public consultation was carried out by the Council in 2003 and this overwhelmingly supported the retention of the market on its current site in Cornhill and, in fact, no alternative sites have been found in Ipswich that are readily available. So the only realistic option for the expansion of the market is for the council to expand it on to the adjoining highways. This requires, as I have explained, the authority for the Bill now before you.

16. You might wonder why the Council does not instead just continue and expand the existing arrangements for granting street trading licences and consents. Such licences and consents are, however, simply individual consents and do not allow the market to be managed and regulated as a whole. So there is a management company to manage the market but the Council cannot devolve its street trading authority to the market company. If the market is to be managed as a whole it does need to be expanded in this way and there are also other difficulties with street trader licences in terms of highway obstruction and related matters in the non-pedestrianised streets. So that is the basis upon which the Council resolved that it was necessary to expand the franchise market on its existing site and into the adjoining highways.

17. Broadly speaking, the scheme of the Bill is to enable the Council to designate any of the highways which are listed in the Schedule to the Bill as market highways, following a process of notification and consultation under the Bill. Once this has been done, the Council would be entitled to hold the market on those highways. The Council would also have ancillary powers to make orders regulating traffic on the market highways while the market is operating.

18. No petitions have been deposited against the Bill, there are no departmental reports in relation to the Bill and the Bill received an unopposed Second Reading.

19. It may assist - and I can explain this in some detail - if I say something about the position on human rights. Would that help?

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