There is increasing fear among traders at Inverness’s iconic Victorian Market that hiving it out to a private agent could push some of its shops to the brink.
One trader has calculated that the minimum cost of bringing in new management would burden larger stores with bills of at least £2,000 per year.
The shopkeepers have been invited to a January 12 council summit to hear more about the proposal.
A fresh council newsletter has spelt out that it wants to “involve the private sector supporting the council,” while retaining ownership on behalf of the city’s common good fund.
City councillors agreed at a meeting earlier this month to defer any decision, after receiving a letter from worried shopkeepers.
Committee members will be asked at a January 28 meeting to instruct the council to “proceed to tender for a contract” to manage the market for five years.
The council’s city manager David Haas said yesterday (WED) a “phased approach” was proposed for the implementation of a new management plan with a pledge that traders would be consulted all the way.
Gordon Grant, who has run Boarstone Tartans for more than 40 years, believes trade is down this Christmas compared with the period last year and he did not relish the prospect of higher bills.
“I’d be surprised if the cost of this was less than a couple of grand a year onto your rent,” he said.
Mr Haas said the contents of a consultants’ report to the city committee had previously been shared with traders. It does not give a clear indication of the impact on traders.
“We actually don’t know that,” Mr Haas said. “Any increase in cost will be very carefully considered and implemented over a period of years.”
It is understood a service charge in addition to existing rental fees would impact on traders at some stage in the next three years.
Mr Haas added: “The market has to find a way to recover costs we’re not recovering at the moment in a reasonable way that allows business to flourish.”
In its report to the council, Graham and Sibbald says that over the past five years, the B-listed Victorian Market generated an average rent of £270,000 a year while the cost of repairs, cleaning and security was £225,000 – leaving a surplus of about £45,000 per year.
The market is an asset of the city’s common good fund which is managed by the council on behalf of the fund’s trustees.
The £966,000 cost of replacing the market’s roof in 2012, along with works planned for the Academy Street entrance, will result in the property operating at a loss to the common good fund.
The Inverness committee will consider seeking expressions of interest for taking on the market’s management “as an appropriate method to gain better returns on the facility in the future as well as improve opportunity for business growth,” next month.