TRADERS have been accused of “talking down” Oxford’s Covered Market in a row raging over proposed rent rises.

City executive board member for development Colin Cook called for positive promotion of the market behind the High Street.

It comes after plans to increase rent by an average of 40 per cent for tenants sparked fury among traders.

Mr Cook claimed tenants would still be getting “good value for money” even after the rent increases.

He said: “It’s got to the stage where we feel we need to explain our position and some of the misinformation coming out from some of the traders.”

He added: “I want to encourage people to talk the place up. I feel that, sadly, people have been talking it down and that’s doing a disservice to the jewel in the crown of independent retail in the city.

“We have said to traders if these increases are too high, they can show us their books, show us why it won’t work and we will happily re-consider, but the majority of them don’t want to do that.”

The council reviews the rent on pitches in the Covered Market every five years according to independent professional advice.

The average annual rent on a shop in the market is currently £16,800. Mr Cook said one trader paid £4,000 a year for a 135 sq m shop.

That compares to £32,000 for a 250 sq m shop on the High Street, according to newsagent Tim Gresswell, who runs a shop just outside the Covered Market.

But the council wants to put all rents up by between 14 and 70 per cent, a proposal which could boost its earnings from £900,000 a year to £1,260,000.

City regeneration director David Edwards said: “Rent reviews regrettably can turn into adversarial actions but that was not the intention here.

“If you look at the market there are very few vacant units, and you look at the internet and see they are being marketed for tens of thousands of pounds.

“I’ve been told the last lease went for £35,000, so there is clearly a good business to be made. People wouldn’t be prepared to pay that sort of money if there wasn’t.”

He said the council had spent more than £500,000 on refurbishing and upgrading the market in the past year.

Mr Edwards added the council was due to spend a further £280,000 on a new sprinkler system and other improvements this year.

He said: “Retailers in the market do not face competition from the high street chains and that’s very unusual, and their rent includes maintenance, insurance and the cleaning services.”

But Covered Market Traders’ Association secretary and Jemini flower shop owner Sandie Griffith, left, said: “We haven’t been talking down the market.

“We have complained about footfall, but that’s in order to try to counterbalance their argument.

“Our argument is that the rent is too high for the types of businesses which are based here.”

One group of five tenants has already decided to go to an arbitrator, with a decision expected in July.