Oxford Covered Market traders and council disagree on who should settle rent dispute

The Covered Market

The Covered Market

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Council Reporter, also covering Oxford city centre. Call me on 01865 425429

A ROW over rents at the Covered Market is set to rumble on as the two parties struggle to agree on an arbitrator.

Oxford City Council and traders have been unable to reach agreement on rent levels since the council proposed an increase of 70 per cent in July 2012.

They decided on arbitration but could not agree on the inital suggestion of 7.3 per cent in March this year and so a second arbitration was announced in April 2014.

It was meant to take 12 weeks and be finished by now but has not even started as the two parties have yet to sign off the appointment of an independent arbitrator.

This means the historic market looks to have been thrown into more months of uncertainty.

Joy Hetherington, of Oxford Aromatics, said: “The issue has been finding someone everyone can agree one. We didn’t want to appoint local people because we didn’t want someone who had preconceived ideas about this issue.”

City council spokesman Chris Lee said: “The new arbitrator is in the process of being appointed so the arbitration is yet to commence.

“The council’s agent is waiting for confirmation from the tenants’ agent that they agree to the proposed arbitrator.

“We have been trying to agree a new arbitrator since April.”

Last night, Mr Lee said an agreement in principle had been reached but it had not been formalised.

He said the agreement could still fall through and if this happened, an appointment would be made by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

While the dispute is settled, the Covered Market traders all owe the council back-rent dating to early 2012, when the rent review process started. This means they owe the council the difference between their current rents and the cost of any new rent which is introduced.

Gillian Senior, owner of The Hat Box, said: “This has been unsettled now for a couple of years and it’s frustrating that we have to go to arbitration.”

Tammie Norton, of CH Brown & Sons, said: “The fact that the council is doing this to us is quite scary, because it’s making it tougher for us to trade. The council should be supporting us.”

In 2012, the council originally proposed a rent increase of up to 70 per cent for some traders in the Covered Market. But the council failed to reach an agreement with the traders and the issue went to arbitration – initially for five “test case” units.

Earlier this year the arbitrator suggested an increase of 7.3 per cent in the test cases but the council refused to honour an agreement with the 40 members of the Covered Market Tenants Association that it would roll out the arbitrator’s findings across the market, because it claimed there was an error in them.

This meant that another round of arbitration would be required to reach an agreement.

Hotelier Jeremy Mogford, joint chairman of Oxford traders’ group Rox and chairman of the Oxford High Street Association, called on the city council to get on with it.

He said: “They should not be battling with their tenants like this. It’s utterly wrong and it’s ridiculous that it has got to that point. They should settle in a reasonable way.”

The Oxford Mail contacted directors of the Covered Market Traders’ Association but they declined to comment or did not respond.

The council was asked for a comment from the new Covered Market manager but it did not provide one.

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