Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Saturday, 6 March 2010

Blackburn market traders angry at eviction notices

Inside the new market hall - artist's impression
Councillors say the markets will be given a new lease of life

Traders in Blackburn's market hall have reacted angrily after being served with eviction notices by the council.

More than 300 stallholders now have to make a final decision about whether to move to the new market being built at the Mall shopping centre.

Some traders are opposed to the move, saying rents will be too high.

Adam Scott, director of regeneration at Blackburn-with-Darwen Council, said he was confident lots of traders could afford to make the move.

The exact level of rent depends upon the stall's size, configuration and location.

The town's covered market, said to be one of the largest in England, has been hosting traders on its current town centre site since 1964.

They must have known, so we feel stabbed in the back
Martin Smith, butcher

But it will be closed in 2011 when a new market opens in the lower ground floor of the £66m Mall shopping centre.

Council officials were accompanied by security staff as they served the notices on Friday.

Frank Littler, who has been trading for more than 50 years, told the BBC the action was too heavy handed.

"It's not very nice... when you get a thing like this and people come around in twos and threes looking like the mafia," he said.

"We expected it was going to happen... but in the manner it's served it's not very friendly - I don't think it's good for market relations."

Butcher Martin Smith, whose family have run a stall in the town since 1959, said he was "extremely gutted".

'New opportunities'

Mr Smith is on the market committee and last week spent three hours discussing the move with councillors.

"Not once did they mention this. They must have known, so we feel stabbed in the back," he said.

Reacting to the negative reaction, the local authority's regeneration chief defended the operation, saying it gave traders "plenty of notice".

"We've taken really hard legal advice on how to get vacant possession of the site," said Mr Scott.

"We've got a period now to talk with them about their plans, and we'll be interviewing and talking to each one of them about the opportunities the new market will create.

"We're confident that there will be plenty of traders who can afford to do it and that they'll be able to take advantage of the increased footfall and the new opportunities there.

"The rent they'll pay is part of their business costs - this is a market for the future."

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