The European continental markets in Douglas do ‘great harm’ to traders elsewhere in the island and they should be stopped said Peter Birch, who owns the Original Manx Fudge Factory.
Mr Birch wrote to local authorities asking for their opposition to the markets, which ran during Manx Grand Prix week and are due to return to the island in the run up to Christmas.
While the continental market was in Douglas last year, Mr Birch attended the Christmas fair in Ramsey, which raises funds for Hospice, ‘in previous years this has always been a successful event, but on this day, Ramsey was dead!’ he wrote. ‘Only five people came through the door between 12pm and 1pm.
‘The markets are deliberately intended to take trade away from the towns and villages and attract shoppers to Douglas and keep tourists in Douglas.’
A customer of his – with a shop outside Douglas – ‘was really struggling and the markets nearly finished him’, he said.
Small business owners and retailers are afraid to speak up against the markets in case it damages their business, he added.
At a meeting in May between traders and Douglas Development Partnership (DDP) organised by the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture, Mr Birch asked the DDP’s Chris Pycroft how he felt about ‘the damage he was doing to small businesses and shops in the surrounding districts across the island who were struggling to keep their heads above water and trying to keep Manx workers employed’, and said that Mr Pycroft replied he didn’t care what happened to them and only cared about what happens in Douglas.
Mr Birch said: ‘Here is a man employed to take trade away from the rest of the island.’
He pointed out most of the traders at the European Continental Markets come from the North West of England and not ‘from far flung parts of Europe’.
Not only do they damage retailers outside Douglas, he wonders whether the island derives any income from their appearance at the markets.
There is a ‘grey area’ about whether each trader pays the off island traders’ licence or whether all 35 traders come under an umbrella licence. At the last two markets, no trader paid a pitch fee at all, he said (pitch fees at UK events range from £250 for a two-day event like The Cheshire Show to £2,500 at UK Christmas markets).
He added: ‘These people come to the island and take all the takings off the island and don’t employ any Manx workers, pay any rates or contribute to island living.’
Adding insult to injury, the island’s farmers’ market – with six to nine traders – has asked to hold its monthly market in the same area as the continental market is held in Douglas, ‘but have been refused on the grounds of health and safety’ because of emergency vehicle access.
Mr Birch asked: ‘What has changed so radically to allow 33 market traders from the UK who care nothing for our community to set up camp in Douglas for a week?’
He said he believes DDP is ‘deliberately trying to close as many retail businesses in outlying areas and villages so to drive you townsfolk and visitors to have to shop in Douglas.
‘Please help to stop them before they destroy the community spirit across this beautiful island.’
He asked authorities to make their feelings known to MHKs and ‘don’t let them use government money and government departments, ie DEFA and DED to fund the ravaging of your community’.
After his letter had been considered by several local authorities, he said the response from them has been ‘disappointing’.
He said: ‘Local councils have a duty of care to the people paying rates and the community, if shops close, everyone will have to go to Douglas.’
Markets are defended
Douglas Development Partnership’s Chris Pycroft has defended the staging of continental markets in the capital.
‘I get paid by Douglas Council for the ratepayers of Douglas, my allegiance is to Douglas,’ he said. ‘I would much rather the [island’s other] towns match up to what we do than we not do things for fear of upsetting other towns.’
He added stall holders have in the past paid £375 for a non-residents’ traders licence (which has recently risen to £450) each to have a stall, plus they charge a pitch fee of £5 a metre, to cover costs such as cleaning, etc.
He said stall holders contribute to the economy in other ways. ‘They stay in hotels and buy for their stalls locally.’
The market’s presence ‘stimulates footfall to the town area and the shops benefit’.
He said Mr Birch’s comments about the farmers’ market are ‘completely untrue’ and said: ‘We were really keen to try and encourage local producers to put on a market in Douglas, but we could not get enough people [farmers].’
Other towns and villages could also hold similar markets, he said, ‘that’s up to them, just because they will not we will not hold back’.