A DORCHESTER councillor is calling for the town to take over the running of the town’s markets.

Cllr Alistair Chisholm says the fact that a markets panel meeting has been cancelled and there is no report yet about how to make improvements shows what little interest Dorset Council has.

The markets are jointly run by the unitary council and Dorchester Town Council, but administered by Dorset Council.

This week’s scheduled markets panel has been cancelled. It was due to discuss the markets performance and ways of making improvements. It last met in January when a report was called for about possible changes to the main Wednesday stall market.

But at the end of last week Dorset Council sent out an email saying the meeting had been cancelled “owing to the coronavirus pandemic and the ability to be able to hold such meetings practicably and meaningfully.”

Despite the claim the council has been able to hold other meetings. This week an online committee will be held to discuss an extension in licensing hours for a North Dorset farm and the police and crime panel will also meet, along with an area planning committee.

Said Dorchester councillor Alistair Chisholm: “The cancellation of this meeting is a classic example of why the markets in Dorchester should be run entirely by the Town Council. It is a poor excuse for cancellation but is indicative of where the Dorchester markets issue stands in Dorset Council’s list of priorities...

“Dorchester has always been a market town and deserves to remain a market town. It is high time some of the various initiatives that have been proposed for the improvement of the market over the last decade were implemented. It is clear to me that this can only be done by a local authority which has both the resource and the desire to see this part of Dorchester’s engine working as well as its real potential allows.”

The panel looks after all the markets in Dorchester – including the stalls in South Street, the occasional farmers’ markets, the Sunday car boot and the Wednesday stall market which has continued to operate throughout the pandemic.

It is made up of town and unitary councillors and is also attended by market operators and others.

Fellow panel member Cllr Molly Rennie says she is thankful that the market has continued to operate: “I am pleased the market has  managed to stay open if only in a very small way and some traders supported the volunteers with produce at the start of their work here in Dorchester.

“Staff from Dorset Council have visited regularly offering support, especially as more gradually opened up — offering advice and support around social distancing especially…

“Yes I would like a meeting to see how we move forward but it is not to be at the moment as we have no idea how the market will progress and grow as lock down lifts and traders return, which we hope they do.”

At the last panel meeting, in January, there were calls to revitalise the Wednesday market, which was not discussed despite being one of the best attended meetings of the panel.

Instead the chairman Cllr Tony Alford, a cabinet member, suggested that a report be brought to the June meeting, now cancelled, or to a special meeting in April, which did not take place.

The committee had previously commissioned an extensive consultation about the market but, according to some councillors, failed to take any major action as a result of it.

Income from both the weekly Wednesday market and Sunday car boot has continued to fall with projected end of year figures for 2019/20 said in January expected to be £14,000 less than budget. It is not known what the actual figures are as there has been no committee to report to.

In January Dorchester town Cllr Tony Lyall said “the old format” for the market was not working. He claimed Dorset Council had added to the demise by saying it wanted to redevelop the Fairfield area and to move the market elsewhere.

Said Cllr Robin Potter at the January meeting: “We’ve had many meetings. It’s time we came up with something positive.”

When the lease was granted in 2001 to Ensors to manage the market the lease rent was £194,000 a year, but for the last full year ending in March 2019 it had fallen to £77,500.

Ensors agreement with Dorset Council runs until 2026. The company says it has taken a series of measures, including advertising, to promote the market.

The next scheduled meeting of the markets panel is not expected to now take place until next January.