PLANS to erect a cover over Newtownards’ historic town square would have ‘no benefit’ for market traders, it has been claimed this week.
Clive O’Neill, the well known manager of the weekly market, who has been trading in Conway Square for over 45 years, said local marketeers had ‘never asked’ for the cover to be installed.
Mr O’Neill was speaking on behalf of local market traders after Newtownards Chamber of Commerce called on the council to help ‘keep the town alive’ by providing the covered structure.
However Mr O’Neill stressed that although market traders wanted to see Newtownards ‘thriving’ and the town centre being ‘used to full capacity’ he questioned the affordability of the project and if it was needed.
Just weeks after local politicians came close to scrapping the scheme, Chamber President, Derek Wright, recently called on Ards and North Down Council to provide a ‘realistic’ cover after it was revealed the cost of the proposed scheme had risen to over £800,000.
Mr Wright had argued that the cover could be installed for a ‘fraction’ of the cost of the current scheme and urged the council to seek funding from the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund that helps regenerate town centres and high streets.
The Chamber president’s appeal was made after local councillors agreed to a last ditch consultation with Newtownards Town Advisory Group (TAG) before making the final decision to bin the scheme.
The scheme began to look in doubt after an outline business case stated that ‘whilst some benefits would be experienced from the project, they were outweighed by the risks and low economic return to Newtownards and the borough’.
Mr Wright, who sits on the TAG, urged the council to ‘future proof’ the town by providing a cover that would protect the Saturday market and other events from the ‘volatile’ local weather.
However the need for a cover to protect traders from the elements was refuted by Mr O’Neill who said: “As a market trader I have stood out in all weather all of my life. I love it, it has been my whole life.”
“We want to see Newtownards thriving, we want to see the town centre used to full capacity. We don’t in any way see how a cover is going to benefit the Saturday market traders. We have never asked for it.
“I can see the rationale why the Chamber of Commerce wants to improve Conway Square, but can we afford it, do we need it, would we use it?
“Newtownards Saturday market traders never asked for a cover, we can provide our own covers and equipment to deal with the weather. The market has been going for over 45 years and we have never had a cover.”
He said: “Some of our members are operating 52 weeks a year. We are trading in the town, we are part of the town, it is a historic town and we don’t feel that a cover would benefit us.”
Mr O’Neill welcomed the additional events that could be held under the covered structure throughout the year but also voiced concerns it would become a ‘magnet’ for anti-social behaviour.
He said: “We want to see the town thrive, it is a busy town, it is a nice town to work and live in. The request for a cover is not from the Saturday market traders, it is from the Chamber of Commerce.”