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'Market threat' election claims spark argument
A BY-election leaflet claiming Oxford City Council is planning to let chain stores open in the Covered Market has been branded “misleading” by traders.
A by-election is being held next month for the North ward seat vacated by former Lord Mayor Alan Armitage, who stood down last month.
The Green Party candidate is Sushila Dhall, 51, chairman of Oxford Pedestrians’ Association, whose election leaflet claims she is “fighting for fair rents at Oxford’s Covered Market, opposing Labour’s plans for chain stores”.
Traders at the historic city centre market are in dispute with the council, their landlord, over a proposed rent hike, which has gone to arbitration.
Sandie Griffith, secretary of the Covered Market Traders’ Association, who runs Jemini flower shop, said the Greens had been supportive of the market, but criticised the leaflet claim.
She said: “If the Greens are suggesting the council is always looking for chains to come in then I think that’s misleading.”
The Labour candidate, Dr Louise Upton, condemned the leaflet, which is being delivered in the run-up to the poll on Thursday, September 19.
The Oxford University scientist said: “The council has a long-standing policy of not allowing multiple chains into the market, and a further policy of ensuring that at least 60 per cent of all shops sell food or are cafés.”
Ms Dhall was unavailable for comment but David Williams, Green city councillor for Iffley Fields and Ms Dhall’s agent, stood by the election leaflet.
He said: “When the card shop Cards Galore was allowed into the market in 2011 that was a chain, and you cannot have rules and exceptions, so we think the statement on the leaflet is fair comment.
“Increased rents could force out some independent traders and pave the way for more chains, so we do not feel this leaflet is misleading voters.”
Tory candidate John Walsh, a chartered accountant, refused to condemn the Greens’ leaflet but said: “Maximising rents should not be the first priority.”
Liberal Democrat candidate Tim Bearder, a former BBC journalist, called the claim “unfair”.
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