A TRADER has branded as a “disgrace” the way the Covered Market is run after closing his shop because of rising rents.

Chocology was opened in 2001 but owner John Partington has said the rents Oxford City Council asks him to pay are the final straw. The shop closed for good on Saturday. The city council, which owns the market, is proposing to put up the majority of rents by as much as 70 per cent. In April, compromise talks over the rents collapsed and the issue is now being handled by an independent arbitrator.

Mr Partington, 39, said: “We have all been moaning about the rent increases for the last couple of years but this is the result.

“We look at the numbers, we look at the spreadsheets, and it is not sustainable.”

Mr Partington, of Woodstock, said when he opened the shop his rent was £13,000 – now it is £35,000.

In its rent review, the city council wants to put his rent up to £45,000.

He said: “My turnover is £240,000 for the retail side of the business and all retailers work on the basis that once your rent goes over 10 per cent of your turnover you are in big trouble.

“I love the market in many ways but I hate the way it is going and it is a disgrace what is going on.

“The relationship bet- ween the council and the traders has broken down because they are trying to screw us all the time.

“It took the council three years to put four signs up on the High Street.

“The council has spent nothing on the market for 25 years. The market has become boring and the entrances are badly painted and badly lit.”

Mr Partington, whose shop has three staff, said his firm would survive as a wholesale business.

The city council has spent more than £44,000 on hiring consultancy firm The Retail Group to look into making the Covered Market more vibrant.

Chris Farren, of the Covered Market Traders’ Association, said: “There are a number of shops in the market up for sale. If they cannot make money they have got to get out.”

City councillor Colin Cook, the executive board member for city development, said: “We have said to businesses if they have a problem with the rents then they need to come to us and have a discussion.

“Some have chosen not to have that discussion and gone straight to arbitration. A few have come to us and we have come to separate agreements with them which have been lower than the rents we originally asked for.

“I expect the consultants to come up with suggestions for how we can improve the market and how the traders can help themselves to improve the offer.”