TRADERS at Oxford’s iconic Covered Market have hit back at Oxford City Council after they were accused of spreading misinformation and negativity.

In a strongly-worded letter to the Oxford Mail, their leader, Chris Farren, launched a stinging attack following city executive board for development chief Colin Cook’s claim they were “talking the market down”.

Mr Farren, chairman of the Covered Market Traders’ Association – whose members are facing rent rises of between 14 and 70 per cent – said: “Like many others we have long since stopped taking Councillor Cook seriously.

“However, his comments cannot go unchallenged.

“His remark about disinformation by traders and the need for promotion of the market is a wilful misrepresentation of fact. This sort of arrogant uninformed tirade is irresponsible and far from conducive to sensible negotiations.

“Councillor Cook remains obsessed with his fanciful opinion of rent, even trying to draw some comfort from High Street properties to justify the council’s customary unrealistic demands.

“He quotes the difference in rent of a shop in the High Street and the market but selectively and conveniently omits to mention their relative turnover or footfall figures. It is clear the council sees the market as no more than a ‘milk cow’.”

Sarah Penny, who runs Nash’s Bakery, said: “Of course the high street has higher rent, because it gets a lot more people shopping there. A lot of people don’t know we’re here.”

Vicki Alder, owner of Macsamillion shoe shop, is facing a £30,000 increase on her three units – a 35 per cent rise.

She said: “He doesn’t know what it’s like to come in here, do a nine-hour day and have almost nothing to show for it. He clearly just doesn’t understand retail.”

Sandie Griffith, from flower shop Jemini, added: “We are not lying, we’re saying it how it is. The rent needs to be realistic.”

Mr Cook said: “I’m sad they are taking it to a personal level, but I stand by my comments.

“It’s not us who make the comparison with the high street, it is the assessor who takes account of high street prices, but also footfall.

“We have spent £500,000 doing the market up and have plans to spend another £250,000. It’s a shame the traders have not put in the same level of support.”

Traders and the council are due to go to an independent arbitrator who will make a final decision.