LENGTHY disputes over the rents in Oxford’s Covered Market could be consigned to history if a senior Oxford City Council officer has his way.
David Edwards, the executive director for city regeneration, has said he is looking into better ways of reaching an agreement with traders at the historic market so that the dispute is not dragged out.
The city council still has not reached an agreement with most of the traders over the latest five-year rent period, which was meant to begin in 2012.
However because the matter has gone to arbitration and there has yet to be a result, traders are facing the prospect of any increase being back-dated to cover the past two years.
Mr Edwards told the Oxford Mail: “I agree that this cannot continue and there are a number of practical ways forward which we are looking at.
“The first thing is to make sure that the traders and the management of the market share a vision and an objective for the future.
“But as landlord and tenant, the negotiation of a lease is inherently adversarial and the question is whether we can find a better mechanism for dealing with rent reviews.
“There is no silver bullet. If rents are linked to inflation then it is fair that the council should share part of it if trade is going well.
“We could say we will put out five units to independent arbitration (and use that for the other traders).”
CRITICISM: Vicki Alder says Oxford City Council has always expected “very high rents” for the Covered Market
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 has gone to arbitration.
Mr Edwards, who stressed the council’s initial rent offer was based on independent advice, said an arbitrator has been appointed to look into the issue of the Covered Market’s rents and he expected a decision by the end of the year.
Vicki Alder, of the Covered Market Traders Association and Macsamillion shoe shop, said: “In fairness it has never been us that’s the problem. It has been the council expecting very high rents.
“Unless the council changes that it doesn’t really matter what they do. I am all for trying to have it negotiated quickly and fairly because this does nobody any good.”
Sandie Griffith, of florist Jemini, said: “At the last major rent review in 2007 the CMTA suggested sample test cases but the council refused.
“This time they actually offered and pursued test cases but failed to honour the result.
“Rent reviews would not take so long if the council served notices on time and proposed an increase that was both realistic and supportable.
“Any change in the present procedure would require the agreement of tenants.”
Mr Edwards said that the city council did serve the notices on time.
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