Shop manager Farhana Rasheed stands in front of market village with sign behind saying 'we want to be back, we will be back, we need your help.'

Stratford Market Village dispute escalated to Business Secretary

The Stratford Market Village closure has been escalated to the Business Secretary, as the council and the building’s owners engage in an increasingly bitter exchange.

Rokhsana Fiaz, Newham Mayor, wrote last week to Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, to seek urgent support for affected market traders, after Stratford Market Properties went into administration in January.

In her letter, the Mayor accused Unex, the building’s owners, of refusing to support small business traders or directly engage with market traders, which have served the community for 49 years.

A spokesperson for Newham Council added Unex had been unhelpful and made financial demands which the council could not meet in their discussions.  

In response, Adrian Morris, managing director of Unex, said: “I find the vitriolic nature of some of Newham’s most recent comments to be without foundation and indeed the nature of the comments seem designed primarily to deflect criticism by unfairly tarnishing Unex.”

“Unex did not close the market, nor was it the cause of the closure.” 

The disagreement centres on the two solutions offered by Unex to Newham council to facilitate opening the market which were rejected – for the council to take over the lease or to act as guarantors for traders to take over the lease. 

A tweet by Newham Labour group suggested these demands included a minimum lease which would have amounted to £6 million.

A Newham council spokesperson said the solutions offered by Unex would have required the council to commit for 12 years to pay at least £425,000 per year to Unex or to guarantee the same on behalf of others, to secure future profits for Unex.

Mr Morris disagreed: “Newham’s spokesperson is not quoting the correct rental figure – I believe if Newham had agreed to either solution offered it would not have taken money from front line services as claimed.”

Traders at Stratford Market Village received a letter on January 10th from Stratford Market Properties, which ran the site, saying the market would close immediately as it was liquidated.

Farhana Rasheed, 40, manager of Fantas Tattoo and Piercing, who worked at Stratford Market Village for 16 years, spoke of the ongoing stress.

Rasheed said: “We have to pay our bills, we have to pay our rent, people need food on their plates, and there are 500 people who are now jobless.”

Of the ongoing discussions, she said “The council are not doing anything – they are not interested in us.” 

She drew attention to the recent re-opening of Market Village in Birmingham which also went into administration and asked: “Why can’t the council do that for us?

“We are stuck in the middle and they haven’t given us any hope – no hope at all.”

Fatima Sheriff, 49, owner of Fantas Tattoo and Piercing, explained she had to finance a temporary contract for a unit at Stratford Market herself to keep the business afloat.

She said: “We don’t have a single dime – to be honest we are bankrupt.”

Sheriff is worried about the traders who were unable to find a new venue for their business.

She added: “Those who are at home have nothing at all.

“They come here to beg for jobs but we can’t help them because we are struggling to survive ourselves.”

Sandra dos Santos Lima, 50, of Romana Hair Salon, previously worked at Stratford Market Village for 15 years.

Lima said: “I cried when I found out about the traders – it really affected me.”

A petition launched by the traders to re-open the Market Village has received more than 6,500 signatures.

Residents have been particularly angry about the closure.

Tania Spiteri, of the Tower Hamlets Residents Facebook group, commented: “It’s a bloody disgrace that everything that is good for East London is being destroyed bit by bit – it’s all about the money.”

Karen Ainger, 63, said: “It’s losing its community spirit, this is just another ploy to make it a cold and soulless place.”

Terry Froy commented on “If we can spend billions of taxpayer funds on bailing out banks, it should be within reason for Newham Council to issue a compulsory purchase order and honour the leases of these businesses. 

A spokesperson for Friends of Queens Market, another market in the borough, agreed.

They said: “Now is the council’s chance to prove that they care about small traders and shoppers.”

Morris drew attention to the estimated £500 million investment portfolio owned and managed by Newham council and said they were used to being a landlord and would have been well placed to organise running the market.

He said: “Unex’s offer to Newham remains and I suspect that this might be the only way for the market to be reopened – the ball remains in Newham’s court.”

A Newham council spokesperson said: “The council is committed to supporting the traders and is working collaboratively with them to explore other options to support them to reopen the market, other than the two suggested by Unex.

“It should be entirely possible for Unex and the market traders to agree a new lease without the Council sitting between them.”

Stratford Market Properties and Groupe Geraud UK have been contacted for a response.

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