HOUSE OF COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

taken before the

UNOPPOSED BILL COMMITTEE

on the

ST AUSTELL MARKET BILL

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Before:

Sylvia Heal, in the Chair

John Austin

Mr Adrian Bailey

Peter Bottomley

Mr Robert Walter

 

[Mr Peter Davis, Counsel (Legislation) in attendance]

 

MR ROBBIE OWEN of BIRCHAM DYSON BELL LLP appeared as Agent.

1. CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon. My name is Sylvia Heal and I have the pleasure of chairing this particular Committee, the Unopposed Bills Committee. I have alongside me a number of colleagues whose names you will see. Perhaps, Mr Owen, you would care to introduce your colleagues who appear with you today.

2. MR OWEN: Certainly, Madam Chairman. Good afternoon and good afternoon to your colleagues. I am Robbie Owen, Agent for the Bill and a partner in Bircham Dyson Bell LLP, Parliamentary Agents. My colleagues today are, on my right-hand side, Mrs Pam Thompson, Principal Parliamentary Clerk at Bircham Dyson Bell, and, on her left, Mr Mothiur Rahman, who is an Associate at Bircham Dyson Bell.

3. On my left-hand side, we have Mr Robin Bailey, who is Clerk to the Commissioners of St Austell Markets and Fairs. On his right is Mr Andrew Ward, who is Manager, Treasurer and Secretary to the Commissioners of St Austell Markets and Fairs. (Perhaps I might refer to them from now on as "the Commissioners".) Finally, on his right is Mr Tristan Scott, who is one of the Commissioners and has been so over the last 20 years.

4. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr Owen. Perhaps you would kindly outline for the Committee the purpose of the Bill, and if there are any specific points which you would like to bring to our attention it would be appropriate to do so.

5. MR OWEN: Thank you, Madam Chairman. If I may, I will ask Mrs Thompson to hand out two documents, each of one page in duration. (Same handed) The first is a summary - it looks rather formidable, but I hope to take up no more than 15 minutes or so of your time if that would be agreeable - of the issues I want to speak to in terms of why this Bill is before you and what we hope it will achieve. Secondly, we thought the Committee would benefit from just a selection of photographs of the St Austell Market House, both the exterior and interior shots. Madam Chairman, if you think I am dwelling too long on a certain issue, based on my list here, please feel free to kick me along.

6. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.

7. MR OWEN: The essential purpose of the Bill is to bring the operation and regulation of the market into the 21st century. The Bill is promoted by the Commissioners, who are an association established by a private Act of Parliament in 1842. They were authorised by that Act to acquire certain land compulsorily for the construction and maintenance of a new market house in St Austell and then to run that market within the market house. The Market House opened two years later in 1844 and has been run by the Commissioners and their successors ever since under the powers of that 1842 Act of Parliament; however, the powers of the Commissioners are limited by that Act, as I will go on to mention, and those restrictions prevent the Commissioners from making the most out of the Market House and its facilities for the benefit of the community of St Austell and the neighbouring area. The purpose of the Bill is therefore to make new provision for the operation and regulation of the market and to repeal the 1842 Act in its entirety. In particular, the Bill would authorise the transfer of the market undertaking of the Commissioners to a new vehicle, a community interest company which has been set up for the purpose of running the market undertaking if the Bill is passed. That community interest company is called the St Austell Market House CIC. (I will be mentioning a little later what are community interest companies in general and, specifically, a little bit about this particular community interest company.) The future regulation of the market, if and when transferred to the CIC, would be achieved through the CIC structures and how they are regulated as a matter of public law. Once that takes place, if it does take place, the Bill would repeal the 1842 Act and the Commissioners would no longer exist as a statutory association, although some of them would continue to be involved in the running of the community interest company, and it is hoped in due course that the directorship of the CIC would be widened to encompass the broader St Austell community.

8. In conclusion: in terms of the summary of what the Bill does, the key to what is proposed is to ensure future flexibility whilst preserving the assets and future operation of the market itself. Specifically there are three points to make here: first, the physical conservation, restoration and refurbishment of the Market House would be guaranteed; secondly, the purpose is to revitalise and restore the role of the Market House at the heart of St Austell's social, economic and cultural life; and, thirdly, it is intended to improve the awareness and understanding of the enormous historical significance this building has whilst equally ensuring its long-term viability.

9. Turning then, if I may, to the location of the market, it is right in the centre of St Austell in between Market Hill and Market Street. It is a Grade II* listed building situated right in the conservation area and St Austell's historic core. The listing describes the building as: "One of the best market halls in the county with good elevations and an exciting interior." I understand that the reason why English Heritage find the interior exciting is that the freestanding timber roof structure is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The building is, therefore, I think it is fair to say, a reflection of the prosperity and resulting civic and other fine buildings that arose from the discovery of the china clay deposits in the mid 18th century. It is felt to be important now because it is one of the architectural gems in the town in terms of its quality and contribution. Its setting is in the historic heart of St Austell, as I have mentioned, and because of its past and present social significance.

10. If you care to look at the photographs, the members of the Committee will see that the Market House currently operates more like a series of shops: fixed lockable units, with no open areas that are actively used for stalls and tables. The charges for the shops are collected weekly, with no certainty of how much income will be available from one week to the next. This is in part a demonstration of the market's current financial vulnerability, and I will go on to say why this is the case. It is equally fair to say that in recent years the market has been less of a success commercially: as St Austell has grown and regenerated, the centre of the town has shifted and the Market House is now out on a bit of a limb, it is felt, and there are competing developments elsewhere in St Austell which very much threaten and do take trade away from the market. As part of the current regeneration plans for St Austell - the town is now one of the most deprived areas in the South West - there are some key town centre improvements; for example, new public squares, new shops, pubs and restaurants. It is hoped that if this Bill succeeds then the revitalised Market House can be very much a part of those regeneration plans.

11. It is really in the context of what is going on in St Austell as a whole that the Commissioners believe there is now much scope and space for a combination of traditional market type activities, such as specialist food market and farmers' market, together with scope for community activities - an aspiration supported by a recent study conducted by Cornwall County Council, an urban study which recognised very much the potential for additional uses of the Market House and the part the building can play generally in the area. That is an aspiration very much supported by the local authority, currently Restormel Borough Council, which fully supports the proposals, as do other members of the community. The problem is that under the limited powers of the 1842 Act it has not been possible to obtain sufficient finances both to maintain the building and also to develop it and to expand what may be done in the building, and neither are there the legal powers to do so.

12. That is a convenient moment to turn very briefly, if I may, to take you through some of the deficiencies in the 1842 Act. It is a lengthy Act and you will be delighted, I am sure, to hear that I do not intend to detain the Committee for very long. In essence, the Act established originally 48 commissioners to carry the Act "into execution", as it was said. There are now ten Commissioners, of whom Mr Scott is one. They are all unpaid, elected representatives of the parishioners of St Austell and it is their obligation still to supervise the running and development of the Market House. The difficulty is that there is no provision in the Act, for example, for a chairman. Mr Scott, as it happens, tends to act as chairman but is voted in at every single meeting. There is very restricted provision for committees: a committee that is established can only be in existence for up to a year and no more. It is therefore felt - and I am sure the Commissioners would forgive me if I put it this way - that the current model is no longer fit for purpose. It is hoped that establishing a body corporate to run the market, under what it is hoped will in due course be a broader directorship reflecting the wider community, will provide a modern management structure within which the market can be run with effective leadership and direction. That is the first difficulty with the Act: the very existence of the Commissioners now, whilst very commonplace in Victorian times, is not an accepted model for these things.

13. A second difficulty I could refer to is section 45, which restricts the amount of money that may be borrowed at any one time, in total with any other sums borrowed, to 6,000. The difficulty is that 6,000 was the amount borrowed in 1842 to finance the construction of the Market House. That amount is still owed through a series of loan notes on which interest is paid and therefore the consequence is that the Commissioners are currently unable to borrow any money at all, from financial institutions or otherwise, to secure and to fund improvements to and to develop the Market House. Indeed, a schedule of desired improvements has recently been drawn up to ensure the future preservation of the building, with the intention that that be funded by a combination of income, grants and loans if this Bill is successful.

14. A third difficulty is under section 129. The Commissioners are only allowed to build, maintain and run the Market House and the market on the land identified in the Act. There is no provision for the Commissioners to do anything else on the land and therefore broadening it out to a wider community and social uses is not permitted.

15. There are difficulties with the way in which stallholders can be attracted to the market. The Commissioners are restricted under section 160 to leasing any market spaces for a maximum of three years. This is felt to limit the flexibility that the Commissioners have in running the market and it makes it financially vulnerable. At the moment many of the stalls are rented on a weekly basis with no fixed-term leases. An income is collected each week, which obviously can vary each week. The Commissioners would like to and are investigating the possibility of having anchor stalls which could attract other customers and other tenants, but, at the moment, because of the three-year restriction, that is very difficult to achieve, because if you are to succeed in securing investment then obviously those wanting to invest need to have a degree of assurance that they will be there for a period of years to get the benefit of that investment.

16. There are other difficulties. I could mention several but perhaps you would permit me to mention two more. The first is that under section 144 the Commissioners are limited at charging the rents that they wish to charge, and there are certain restrictions set out in the schedule. It is fair to say those have not in recent years strictly been adhered to but they are, nevertheless, still there as a matter of law and that is not felt to be a satisfactory basis for the undertaking. Finally, there is theoretical provision, at least, in sections 169 to 170 that any profits arising out of the market must be applied "in aid of the rates of the Parish of St Austell", as the Act puts it. It is felt that whilst there is currently no specific parish council for the parish of St Austell and therefore the beneficiary body, if there were to be one, would be the current borough council, and whilst the borough council are very supportive of this Bill - they have obviously been given notice of it in accordance with standing orders - it would nevertheless be possible in theory for them to claim any profits from the operation of the market rather than them being ploughed back into the undertaking.

17. In summary, on the limitations and restrictions of the Act: in order to be able to run the market as the Commissioners would wish, as a commercial undertaking with a modern management structure, with better borrowing powers and the ability to provide long-term fixed leases in combination with short-term, more traditional market stalls, it is the view of the Commissioners that the 1842 Act ought, in the public interest, to be repealed. This can only be done by a private bill.

18. Might I turn now briefly to mention community interest companies generally and, more specifically, the proposed beneficiary of this Bill, the St Austell Market House CIC. Having, I hope, demonstrated to your satisfaction that the 1842 Act is now not fit for purpose and is inadequate and that the undertaking of the market as it might in due course develop needs to be run under a different type of structure, clearly the question arises as to what is the best type of alternative structure. The community interest company structure was chosen by the Commissioners in 2007 as it is a structure which has been specifically designed by the current government for social enterprises which want to use their assets and any resulting profits for the public good. The Commissioners are of course mindful that they essentially hold the Market House on trust for the people of St Austell and therefore they must preserve the market's assets and protect them from misuse or disbursal. Therefore, community interest companies (CICs) have been focused on, as they are a relatively new form of company and their essential feature is that activities of the companies must be for the benefit of the community rather than for the individuals who own, run or work in them. The legislation providing for their creation is very recent. It is the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004 and I see from the relevant website that by March of last year over 850 of these companies had been formed. The legislation also establishes a specific and independent regulator of CICs, appointed by the secretary of state, whose role is, amongst other things, to make sure that CICs meet their obligations both to the law and to the community and to take enforcement action where infringements occur. In summary: CICs are seen as significant in facilitating the development and expansion of community oriented activities and they are a welcomed additional legal form for social enterprises, complementing those already available.

19. It is important to note that before a CIC that is proposed can be registered as such, the application documents must satisfy the regulator that the company passes the community interest test. Essentially the legislation says that the test is passed if a reasonable person might consider that the proposed activities of the company are carried on for the benefit of a defined community (in this case, clearly the community of St Austell) rather than for the benefit of company directors, employees or service providers. Also, it is important to bear in mind that that is not the end of the matter, because, once you have succeeded in registering a CIC and it is then up and running, the company must then continue to satisfy the community interest test every year in order to remain a CIC. That is done through a requirement to publish, alongside annual accounts, a community interest company report showing what the company has been doing and why what it is doing is still very much for the benefit of the community rather than for anybody else.

20. In this case, the CIC that is mentioned in the Bill, which if the Bill succeeds it is proposed would be the recipient of the market undertaking, was registered on 30 April 2007 and there are currently four directors who are all currently Commissioners. Again, Mr Scott is one of those four directors. The regulator, in permitting the company to be registered, has clearly shown her satisfaction that the community interest test has been met in terms of the proposed activities of the company. Essentially there were really four activities that the paperwork showed as being activities of the company that would benefit the community. First, there was the fact that the company would enable continued trading in the market at the heart of the town centre, ensuring support for local employment. The second benefit identified was that there would be an enhancement of the community spirit of the town by making the Market House available for community-based activities. The third benefit would be a protection and strengthening of the heritage of the building. Certainly the intention is to develop educational resources and museum like facilities and information, so that the good people of St Austell are aware of the huge historical significance of the Market House and its importance to the town. The fourth benefit to the community would be that any surplus from the company's trading activities would be reinvested in the Market House. It is also important to point out that there are no shareholders in this company, so there is no possibility of shareholders being paid dividends. It is a company limited by guarantee and therefore any surplus funds generated from trading would be reinvested.

21. A fundamental feature of community interest companies is what is called the statutory asset lock, which is a general term used to cover all of the provisions of the company's constitution, which makes sure that the assets of the company are either permanently retained within the company and used for community purposes or, if they are transferred out of the company, are transferred under strict conditions. Essentially there are three scenarios for transfer out of the company and all three are obviously overseen by the specific regulator. I would submit that these asset lock provisions, albeit in recent legislation, provide the confidence that the CIC's assets and profits will be devoted to the benefit of the community rather than rewarding anyone who works in the company and or invests in it or owns it. As I mentioned, the regulator is responsible for making sure that the asset lock is maintained. Any member of the community who feels that an abuse is going on can obviously take action by complaining to the regulator.

22. Finally, on this point, the specific objects of this CIC mentioned in the Bill, set out in its memorandum of association are: "to carry on activities which benefit the community and, in particular, without limitation to ensure continued trading activity in and around the Market House; enhance the community use of the building; and increase awareness of the building's heritage commensurate with its Grade II* listed status". The memorandum goes on to provide that the Market House CIC has the power to do anything which is incidental or conducive to the furtherance of its object. Therefore, it is felt that the CIC would be able to do six key things if it is successful in receiving the undertaking of the Commissioners: (i) borrow as appropriate to secure improvements and development of the Market House; (ii) let parts of the building for terms that are longer than three years where appropriate; (iii) develop the use of the Market House to develop non-market type events which are of a social and community nature; (iv) run the market undertaking under a more appropriate and modern structure within the current association of commissioners; (v) widen the directorship in due course to encompass the wider community - as I have previously mentioned, who may have skills and expertise that are relevant in developing the facilities and use of the market and maintaining the structure of the building; and (vi) charge rents at appropriate commercial levels.

23. Perhaps I might move on briefly to mention consultation. There was a detailed consultation in the proposed Bill last summer. The proposals met with a very positive response from the local community, including Restormel Borough Council, which I mentioned earlier. English Heritage fully supported the project, as the proposals were to secure a sustainable future with an improved community role for a Grade II* listed building. The South West of England RDA also supported the proposals, given its own regeneration role in St Austell and elsewhere. The Cornwall Heritage Trust gave support to any move that would be to the advantage of the people of St Austell as long as the historic building was preserved. Importantly, the St Austell Brewery was unequivocal in its support of the proposals. I am not entirely sure why they seem to feature, but there they are. Finally, and not least, Matthew Taylor MP is a very enthusiastic supporter of the proposals and is very keen to see the potential of the Market House realised through a variety of uses, especially for supporting local produce and local community groups.

24. Penultimately dealing with Human Rights Act issues: as the Committee may know the Promoters are required to make a statement of compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. The relevant minister is then required to report on this, and, quite separately, the Joint Committee may also consider the position. The Commissioners' own statement can be found on the explanatory memorandum to the Bill in the usual terms. Gareth Thomas, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, reported on 8 February that he saw no reason to dispute the Commissioners conclusions and there is no other government report on the Bill of which I am aware.

25. In summary, Members of the Committee: in essence the Commissioners wish to maintain, preserve and improve this important listed building; they wish to widen the activities carried out there to include community activities as well as trading activities; they want to run the Market House under a more modern corporate structure; they want to be able to borrow money more appropriately to fund improvement works to the building and the regeneration of the market; they want to be able to attract anchor tenants by being able to offer long leases in combination with more short-term uses to ensure diversity of those represented in the market; and they wish to charge proper commercial rents. They are prevented from doing most of these things due to the restriction imposed on them by an Act of Parliament that was passed 166 years ago. They are therefore asking Parliament to repeal that Act and to allow them to transfer their undertaking to a community interest company which they submit is the appropriate recipient, and for these purposes it is necessary for a private bill to be enacted.

26. Madam Chairman, there are just two other matters for me to deal with. The first is the filled-up Bill which Members of the Committee will have before them. There is just one amendment proposed on which your counsel may well have briefed you. It is a technical amendment dealing with the fact that the 1842 Act does not in law have a short title and therefore we had to give it one. That is the sum total of the amendments which we commend to the Committee, along with the Bill itself of course. The other matter is that I am very happy to take the Committee through the individual clauses of the Bill if you would wish me to. You may not wish me to. I am at your disposal in that respect.

27. CHAIRMAN: Certainly you have given us a very comprehensive preview of the context of this Bill that you have brought before us today. Speaking for myself, you have certainly answered one or two of the questions I was about to pose to you, although there may still be others. Nonetheless, my colleagues may wish to raise some points with you, so perhaps I could confer with them.

28. MR ADRIAN BAILEY: I missed an opportunity on Saturday. I was at Charlestown and I failed to look in at St Austell. Had I read this before, I would have had a look. I have a number of questions. First of all, on the structure and letting of the market, earlier you said that income fluctuated and it was difficult to anticipate the income stream. You also said that the market is effectively indoors and is shop units. Do I take it therefore that these are let sporadically or even just on a day-to-day basis? Or are there any permanent tenancies?

29. MR OWEN: My understanding of the position - and Mr Ward will correct me if this is wrong or add to it if necessary - is that, in essence, the tenants are treated as weekly tenants but there is no proper basis providing for their being there. There is no proper documentation because of the restrictions of the Act. There are no tenancy agreements or the like. Sometimes it has been difficult in the past. Where a tenant has not being paying rent promptly or at all, it has been difficult in some cases to deal with the situation.

30. MR OWEN: Mr Ward, is that a correct summary of the position?

 

 

31. MR WARD: That is quite correct, yes. We do suffer from the vagaries of trade, so there is no limitation on the length of stay. We have had had cases recently where people have taken the unit and then for their own purposes decided to vacate within quite a short space of time.

32. MR ADRIAN BAILEY: Given the fact that, in effect, you want to put it on a more commercial basis - and I fully understand the reason why you should do so - and you have talked about the difficulties of letting, have you any assessment of the reaction of the stallholders or tenants there? Could the change to a more commercially based operation affect the level of tenancy there? Has any work been done on that?

33. MR OWEN: Mr Ward and the Commissioners are in very good touch with the tenants. My understanding is that the tenants, who have clearly been consulted on this, as with everybody else, are very supportive of the need to modernise the structure. Indeed, in some cases, they have clearly lost out on business because they have not been able to be given a three or more year lease so they can therefore invest in facilities in the Market House, and they have lost out to competitors. Mr Ward, would you like to elaborate on that?

34. MR WARD: That is correct. As the present conditions of the building are very much in the 18th and 19th century, the trading conditions, the shopping conditions, are not comparable to the modern conditions that a shopper would enjoy in a more modern shopping mall. It is not a terribly comfortable place for either the traders or the shoppers. In competition with many of the out-of-town stores, where everything is very convenient, we are currently providing a shopping experience which is certainly less than convenient.

35. MR ADRIAN BAILEY: That is interesting. My third question concerns the restriction on borrowing that you mentioned. The original bill of 6,000 has not been paid off. 6,000 would not seem to be a huge sum of money in this day and age, so why is that the case?

36. MR OWEN: Mr Ward, I am afraid you have to answer the question as to why.

37. MR WARD: That is fine. I became Treasurer three or four years ago and this is a historical situation we are left with. Initially there were 60 loan notes. Over the period of years, one or two of those have been lost and so it has not been possible to redeem them. There has been some discussion at our level as to whether they needed to be redeemed all in one go or could be redeemed individually. At various times one or two of the people who own them have asked us if we would like to buy them back, but it has not been proceeded with, mainly due to discussion about what the value of that loan is. The Commissioners took the view that they were worth no more than face value, whereas the people who own these historical documents felt they had a rather more elevated value than we did.

38. MR ADRIAN BAILEY: What is going to happen now?

39. MR OWEN: The Bill preserves that status quo and I think it would be a matter under the new regime for some sort of deal to be done, in essence. Mr Bailey is the clerk to the Commissioners.

40. MR OWEN: Would you like to add to that at all, Mr Bailey?

 

41. MR ROBIN BAILEY: Yes, certainly. As has just been said, I think the status quo would be maintained.

42. PETER BOTTOMLEY: That is under 3(1)(b).

43. MR OWEN: Yes, sir.

44. MR ROBIN BAILEY: When the transfer is made, I think a serious inquiry needs to be made into it to establish the value and probably get rid of this historical anomaly. It was probably mistakenly thought that you could only redeem them all at one go - and that was impossible. I believe that is not the case, but I am not an expert. When we know where we stand at this level, then we will move on to dealing with this.

45. MR ADRIAN BAILEY: Effectively - tell me if I have got this wrong - you will be able to borrow money without redeeming the original notes or whatever you wish to call them.

46. MR OWEN: That would be possible, yes, if it was felt to be appropriate for commercial reasons.

47. MR ADRIAN BAILEY: The Commissioners, I understand, are elected by parishioners. That is intriguing. When are the elections done?

48. MR ROBIN BAILEY: They are done in June. There is a notice put in the local press in a standard form that informs them that a ballot will be held in the Market House on a certain date at a certain time and that any of the parishioners that fall within the requirements of the Act are entitled to vote and elect anybody they choose.

49. MR ADRIAN BAILEY: How will this change in terms of the appointment of directors in the CIC?

50. MR OWEN: The directors of the CIC will be appointed by the board of the CIC, subject to the overall supervisory jurisdiction of the regulator. The intention is in due course that the board of the CIC itself would obviously wish to consider how to widen representation of the community on the board. Just like any other company structure, the CIC is a company like lots of other different types of companies.

51. MR ADRIAN BAILEY: Thank you very much.

52. PETER BOTTOMLEY: Clause 8 "Release from trusts" presumably drops your 6,000, or maybe you get the powers to borrow from the CIC regulations. What I am not clear about is whether you lose the power to have five great markets a year on specified days.

53. MR OWEN: The intention is that under the new structure the rights of the holding market will be more flexible and fluid. Therefore, whilst, in common with other Victorian statutes, that Act does say, yes, you can hold certain pig markets and fairs and things, that would be swept away. There would be no continuing statutory provision for specific markets because, given how markets currently operate nowadays, that is just not felt to be appropriate. It would not prevent the company holding certain specified markets and saying, "This is the Whitsun market" or whatever, if that were necessary to keep with local traditions.

54. PETER BOTTOMLEY: In effect, that right transfers under 3(1)(b).

55. MR OWEN: Clause 3(1)(b) is talking about property rights obligations and liabilities and such things. Clause 8 is really dealing with the perhaps theoretical possibility that, because the Market House was constructed under an Act of Parliament and subject to all the provisions, there is some sort of statutory trust on it, and the intention is to try to remove that because it would be incompatible with the CIC structure which is there to replace it.

56. PETER BOTTOMLEY: Although certain parts of the record are referring to the limits on rents that could be charged under old clause 144, actually the limitations are in schedule F.

57. MR OWEN: That is right, sir.

58. MR WALTER: I have several questions, mainly about the basic thrust of the Bill. It does appear to me - I think it is confirmed by your introduction - that the Market House is essentially a sort of run-down shopping centre and the purpose of this Bill is to give the CIC greater powers to be able to run it more as a forward thinking business. I am also aware that the centre of St Austell is subject to some major redevelopment at the moment, partially funded by the regional development agency.

59. MR OWEN: Yes.

60. MR WALTER: Within section 170 of the Act it talks about the application of surplus monies going essentially to the rates of St Austell. I wonder if you could give us any indication of whether any of these surplus monies have been used for the benefit of the rate payers - or, now, I guess, the council tax payers - of St Austell in recent years, and whether or not they might feel that as a result of this Bill they would then lose any rights to surplus monies from that market.

61. MR OWEN: Sir, my understanding is that that provision has never been utilised or enforced, depending on how you look at it. We were specifically concerned when I and Mr Rahman were drafting the Bill that this might be a matter the borough council would be concerned about, even though they had been consulted on the broader proposals the previous year, and therefore they were served with a notice under standing order 19 - which some Members may be aware is where there are proposed repeals in a bill that are specifically for the protection of a person or body. We identified the borough council as being the only possible successor to this provision, given there is no parish council, so they were served with the specific notice and they have not objected to the Bill. Indeed, they support it wholeheartedly.

62. MR OWEN: Perhaps, Mr Scott, you could comment on the position of the borough council, or any of your colleagues, but my understanding is they are wholeheartedly behind it. Indeed, were they not to be, it would be a reasonable assumption that they might be in this room today objecting.

63. MR SCOTT: Madam Chairman, the council in respect of Restormel will be ceasing to occupy the position after next April, because it is going to be a unitary council in Cornwall from April 2009. With due respect to it, with the new town council or parish council they would be very glad to see us in a more, say, responsible position for the organisation and running of the Market House.

 

64. MR OWEN: In essence, sir, the only one body we could think of who could possibly benefit from that, the borough council, has been told of the proposed repeal and has not objected. Indeed, in the previous consultation it has been very supportive. I hope that answers your question.

65. MR WALTER: It certainly answers the financial aspect of my question. The other aspect you have just touched on is the fact that Cornwall is going to become a unitary authority and, therefore, we are likely to see a St Austell town council come back into existence when that happens. That is in the realms of speculation. Perhaps I could go on to the other point, which is in section 162, regulation of markets and fairs. It does seem that the Commissioners have some pretty wide-ranging powers - and Mr Bottomley touched on this - in terms of regulating markets and fairs within the town of St Austell or within 800 yards of the church. From what you have said, this Bill basically will confine itself to the future of the Market House and these powers will just simply lapse. I wonder whether it should be somewhere in the Bill that these powers might then be vested in the present local authority or a successor local authority, because it may be that people might want to hold a street markets in St Austell in the future or even possibly - although it is going against the trend - cattle markets, sheep markets and so on. It does seem at the moment that the Commissioners have exclusive right to do this and to authorise it and also to authorise slaughterhouses and other forms of activity.

66. MR OWEN: I also inquired about the use of section 162 and was instructed that no such by-laws exist under this power - I believe they have never existed, but, at any rate, they certainly do not at the moment - and the difficulty is of course that, given that this by-law making power is in the very same Act as all the restrictions I have mentioned, they cannot be used to overcome the other restrictions. For a market undertaking such as the Market House in St Austell, whilst provisions were routinely put in legislation in Victorian times to regulate public access to undertakings such as markets, nowadays it is felt that you can deal with that through more appropriate means, particularly property issues, certainly in terms of the relationship between the market company and the stallholders and others trading in the market. Whilst the objects of the CIC that has been established are, as I have explained, much broader than just the market and therefore would allow the Market House to be used for other activities; in terms of broader street markets in the town of St Austell, the view of the Commissioners would be that that is more properly a matter for the local authority as opposed to a specific community interest company. I can assure you we did give this some thought and we felt it was not worth preserving those regulation-making powers. They had not been used, for a start, and we did not think that in the 21st century they were the appropriate way of regulating the current market or any other broader street markets.

67. MR WALTER: From what you say on the incapacity of this Bill and therefore the repeal of the 1842 Act, all those powers would lapse, and therefore it could be incumbent on a local authority or a successor local authority then to regulate market street stalls and so on within the town of St Austell?

68. MR OWEN: Yes, sir, and of course local authorities have those powers at the moment, so we would not be contemplating a situation where they would not have the powers to do what is necessary.

69. CHAIRMAN: In the repeal of the one Act and this new Bill hopefully coming into effect, what is likely to happen to the market in the meantime? Is there going to be any disruption to trading or will there be some sort of continuity?

70. MR OWEN: I suspect traders and members of the public in the very short term would not really notice a difference, because on one day there would be ownership by the Commissioners and the next day it would be transferred to the CIC. Certainly in terms of continuity and disruption we do not envisage that being an issue at all.

71. CHAIRMAN: Certainly local people get very used to going into their markets on particular days. I have three markets in my own constituency and no doubt other colleagues are very familiar with market-places. I noticed that you said you would be continuing the traditional market activities. Has any thought been given to the kind of stallholders that perhaps you are hoping to attract to this new in-house building?

72. MR OWEN: I know it has, Madam Chairman.

73. MR OWEN: Mr Ward, could you answer that question.

74. MR WARD: There is quite a resurgence in Cornwall certainly of local food producing. Other towns nearby have very successful food markets. That activity is one that we have considered. We are hampered somewhat in other ways but plans which have been discussed with architects in the past have included excellent facilities for deliveries and that type of thing. That is an essential part now of any market. Gone, unfortunately, are the days when people would come in with small quantities of fruit and vegetable to sell. They need a fairly good commercial quantity to make a go of it, so you do need to have that facility as well and that would be very much part of any regeneration plans, in consultation, I should say, with the local authority - whichever local authority that happens to be when the Act is passed.

75. CHAIRMAN: The other thing is community activities. From the consultation did any suggestions come up from the members of the public as to the kind of community activity they would like to see take place?

76. MR WARD: In the past we have explored possibilities and one or two things have been undertaken. We had an art exhibition with a local art society and the local college has had more of a media studies exhibition as well. There have been inquiries about other things. A silver band locally was looking for rehearsal rooms. They came to look at the Market House but decided not to use it because it was very cold. You have seen the notes about the structure: it has a superb roof but it has only the slates on it and no insulation at all. In the days when it was built, they did not want a warm, cosy building, they wanted it nice and cool to keep all the produce in a good condition, and it certainly is very cool.

77. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.

78. PETER BOTTOMLEY: It might be worth saying on the record that I am sure the community of St Austell would be grateful to the Commissioners, to the Treasurer and to the Clerk for keeping the thing going and effecting this transformation if it is approved. And no doubt the new company will not be ruling against the Clerk or the Treasurer being the same person or being partners of the same.

79. CHAIRMAN: Thank you Mr Owen and, indeed, your colleagues for the contribution you have made to the discussion and for answering the questions from my colleagues here.

80. I now have the pleasure of saying to you that the Committee is happy to approve this Bill. We wish it every success in the future and perhaps more importantly we wish the future of the St Austell Market House every success. I was particularly impressed by your words, if I may say so, that you were looking to "maintain, improve and preserve". Let us hope that all those three things happen as a result of this Bill. Thank you very much indeed.

81. Perhaps I could now ask Mr Bailey formally to approve the preamble.

82. MR OWEN: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Thank you for those kind words as well.

 

MR ROBIN BAILEY, sworn previously

Examined by MR OWEN

83. MR OWEN: Are you Robin Charles Bailey?

(Mr Robin Bailey): I am.

84. Are you the Clerk to the Commissioners of St Austell Markets and Fairs?

(Mr Robin Bailey): I am.

85. Do you hold responsibility for the promotion of the Bill on behalf of the Commissioners of St Austell Markets and Fairs?

(Mr Robin Bailey): I do.

86. Have you read the preamble to the Bill?

(Mr Robin Bailey): I have.

87. Is it true?

(Mr Robin Bailey): It is true.

88. MR OWEN: Thank you.

89. MR OWEN: Thank you, Madam Chairman.

90. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much indeed.