A sudden rent rise may prove to be the death knell for the flagging Central Milton Keynes market, say traders.
Private management company Bray Associates increased the rent for all pitches last week, giving stallholders just two days’ notice of the change.
“For many of us this is the last straw and we can’t afford to continue. They’re bleeding us dry,” said one trader.
Another said: “We’re all suffering from the decrease in shoppers at the centre:mk generally. My takings have gone down by 60 per cent over the past eight months.
“We blame the parking charges. Why should people shop here when it costs them £2 a hour to park in most spaces?”
Bray Associates blame rising costs for their rent rise, which is £20 a week for a large stall. Traders already pay between £100 and £400, depending on the size of their pitch, to open five days a week.
“If you add it all up, Bray Associates are taking between £30,000 and £40,000 a week in rent. Yet they are not investing that money back into the market,” said one.
“The whole place needs a facelift before it becomes an eyesore,” said one stallholder who has traded there for 17 years.
A spokesman for Bray Associates said: “This is the first rent increase for a long time. Our costs have risen during that time – our electricity bills have doubled, for example.”
He said trading as a whole at the centre had been “flat” in recent months but the market was bustling this week because it was the half term holiday.
Linda Inoki, Xplain campaign group said: “The rent increase is a bombshell. It’s relatively small, but a small increase could make a big difference to someone struggling with falling trade and little support.”
The centre:mk advertises its footfall as 22 million people a year. This figure is a year old but has not changed significantly over the past 12 months, say centre bosses.
The rent increase is the first rise in seven years. But in those days it was a thriving market with two or three times the number of visitors, say the stallholders.
Bray Associates say the rent rise averages around 5 per cent for stallholders. Many were happy with it and the objections are from a minority, they say.