Shopkeepers trading in Queens Market, East London fear that their landlord Newham Council is trying to price them off the land.
They have asked for rent rises from fifty to one hundred per cent.
“But commercial rents are falling across the country” says Ahmed Fouzi,a young market entrepreneur, “trade is bad everywhere: our customers are low income people who cannot afford higher prices so how can we meet these demands?”
While Mr Fouzi and fellow traders are standing firm in the newly formed Queens Market Shopkeepers Association, other traders are more vulnerable because the Council gave them leases with no rights to renew on expiry. They rent kiosks: small brick built lock-ups with less than fourteen square metres for trading and storage. They have been told they must ‘bid’ for new leases. One trader has already been evicted for bidding too little.
Traders like Rahim Rahmani bid the minimum £9500 required before bidding closed on 31 July. But three weeks later he is still waiting to hear whether he will keep his kiosk.
“It’s a nightmare” he says “after five years building up the business I don’t know if I have a future in the market or not.”
Friends of Queen’s Market are concerned.
“They say that the amount of money offered and the suitability of the business are primary considerations. We are pressing to find out what the other Council criteria are: do they take into account whether a business is successful? or do they just want to squeeze maximum rent out of traders come what may?” asks Chair Sasha Laurel.
In a new threat the Council is trying to make nine traders meet a forty-thousand plus bill for jet washing the concrete panels above their shops.
“This is just an attempt to intimidate traders by threatening extra expense. The panels above the shop are publicly owned and nothing to do with the traders. The Council has not spent a the smallest fraction of their rent receipts on getting them cleaned since they installed them around thirty years ago” says Pauline Rowe, Friends of Queens Market Secretary.
But while the row rumbles on, the shoppers keep coming to Queens Market. “Low prices, fresh stuff, we need this market” comments pensioner Daulat Ram.
“We shoppers won’t sit quietly by if this Council tries to push out the traders and bring in the developers!”
says shopping mum Maria Sexious.