'It's soul-destroying': Kirkgate Market traders forced to backpay rent for lockdown closed period

Indoor traders at Leeds' Kirkgate Market have warned their businesses are at risk of collapse, after being told to fork out months' worth of backdated rent when they were closed during lockdown.
Non-essential stalls in the market were allowed to reopen in mid-June.Non-essential stalls in the market were allowed to reopen in mid-June.
Non-essential stalls in the market were allowed to reopen in mid-June.

Stallholders selling non-essential goods are furious that Leeds City Council has asked them to pay rates and a service charge for April, May and the first half of June, when they were unable to open.

Traders have been given until 2022 to cough up and have been offered discounted rent going forward until the early autumn. The council says it won't take any "enforcement or debt recovery action" against anyone who can't pay.

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But several stallholders, who were forced to shut up shop during lockdown and only returned to work on June 15, say the bill will wipe a huge chunk out of the £10,000 government grant they each received to help them through the pandemic.

Stallholders say they're upset at being forced to pay rent for a period of time they were unable to trade.Stallholders say they're upset at being forced to pay rent for a period of time they were unable to trade.
Stallholders say they're upset at being forced to pay rent for a period of time they were unable to trade.

The rent demands, combined with declining footfall at the market, have led several to conclude they cannot continue.

One trader that has already decided to up sticks is Keeley Taylor, who runs a pet supplies store. She’s handed in her notice and is leaving on July 31.

She said: "I’ve been here with my husband independently for about 25 years but I’ve been on the market since I was three or four years old. My parents used to have a pushchair stall here in the 1970s.

"Leaving is soul-destroying.

Some traders have handed in their notice since lockdown ended. Others remaining say their businesses are under threat.Some traders have handed in their notice since lockdown ended. Others remaining say their businesses are under threat.
Some traders have handed in their notice since lockdown ended. Others remaining say their businesses are under threat.
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"In the first six days we were back open, we took what we used to take in one morning in 2015.

"I appreciate retail has changed, of course it has.

"But we have to go because we’re really concerned that we’ve been billed full rent and service charge for the time we’ve been closed.

"We’re worried about a second lockdown because we think if they’ve charged us for the first time we were closed, they’ll do it again if there’s another spike."

The council said it was working with traders to support them and that no enforcement action would be taken against those who can't pay.The council said it was working with traders to support them and that no enforcement action would be taken against those who can't pay.
The council said it was working with traders to support them and that no enforcement action would be taken against those who can't pay.

Some at Kirkgate believe the situation's been forced by the dire state of Leeds City Council's finances, which have been savaged by the pandemic.

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The local authority has a £200m black hole and has publicly raised the prospect of having to declare themselves bankrupt.

But mobile phone repair man Navneet Singh said the burden should not be passed onto small firms scrambling back to their feet after three months without business.

Traders also point to neighbouring councils, who've not asked their markets for rent to cover the lockdown period.

"They should speak to the government (for the money), rather than getting it from traders who are already struggling," Mr Singh said.

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"The grants were there to help us to survive and pay suppliers. It wasn’t supposed to be for rent.

"We’re not happy. A lot of traders will go. Some already have but there will be a lot more.

"The future of my business is very uncertain.

"I’ve got two kids and I’ve got a mortgage. A lot of people make their living from this and it makes it difficult."

Stallholders said the indoor market had been busy in the first couple of days after re-opening in mid-June, but that footfall had tailed off since.

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Clothes seller John Henry said the backdated rent charge would cost him around £2,400 per month.

He said: “We’ll be out of business here. There’s no two ways about it.”

“You can see from the place now there’s no-one coming in. It’s serious.”

"I just can’t see a short-term answer. We’re not taking enough money.

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"We were expecting a bit more of a concession from the council on the ongoing rent and the arrears and that’s not been forthcoming."

In response, a Leeds City Council spokesman said the local authority was "committed to providing a range of meaningful support to all traders at Leeds Kirkgate Market to reflect the very challenging conditions that businesses have and continue to face due to coronavirus".

They added: "As part of the support package offered by the council, this includes providing traders with discounted support on trader rent from July 1 until the end of September 2020.

"Whilst traders have continued under governance arrangements to receive as normal monthly invoices for rent and service charges, we have told all businesses that no enforcement or debt recovery action will be taken by the council if they are unable to pay the required amount.

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"Any traders that are unable to meet outstanding rent and service charges that have been built up since coronavirus, will have the opportunity to set up payment plans to meet their individual needs that can be spread over time up to March 31, 2022.

"This type of assistance from the council sits aside grants provided nationally by government during coronavirus, which in respect of indoor market traders at Leeds Kirkgate Market is in the region of £1.9m.

"The council will continue to work closely with any traders who might be struggling to meet their rental costs to provide support and discuss ways in which any commitments can be met at an appropriate, later date."

Local Democracy Reporting Service