Closure of Cambridge Market blasted as ‘snap decision’

The blanket closure of Cambridge market has been criticised by opposition councillors.

The Liberal Democrat councillors questioned Cambridge City Council’s plans to close the market in a “snap decision”.

The council leadership announced on Thursday that the market would be shut down completely from today (Friday) due to the rapid increase in Covid cases, including the mutated new strain.

“It’s good the council is being vigilant about the risks of transmitting the virus, but the decision they have made in this instance leaves me and Market ward’s councillors somewhat confused and uncomfortable,” said Cllr Josh Matthews, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on the city centre.

“Businesses selling the same goods can continue if they operate within shops, which runs counter to the greater risks of being inside versus in the open air.”

During the first lockdown, non-essential market stalls were shut, but those such as butchers and fishmongers could remain open, which is not currently the case.

The market just before Christmas.
(Image: Cambridge News)

Cllr Matthews added: “This decision may well drive more people into shops.

“The market traders operate in competition with these shops, making this decision particularly tough for self-employed people whose livelihoods have been on the line this past year.”

He also questioned why more of the council’s team of Covid marshals could not be deployed to organise the queuing, and asked whether it had “tried and failed”.

Cllr Matthews continued: “The decision the council has made is apparently ‘until further notice’, which gives traders little to go on.

“We are calling on the council to review it after only one week. The conditions they describe of crowds congregating in the market square may last no longer than the current holiday week, when people are not working and looking to get outside and enjoy what they can in Cambridge.

“This could look very different next week, when many will be back at work.

“And however long this goes on, the council must come up with some convincing and easily accessible compensation for the traders.

“Because their businesses have been closed by council decision rather than government restrictions, we are worried that they won’t have the same access to financial support that non-essential businesses can receive because the government has said they must close.

Cllr Josh Matthews.
(Image: Copyright Unknown)

“Other attempts at compensating self employed people have been complex to navigate and hit and miss for recipients.”

Several market traders, such as Roberto Sanna of Roberto’s Deli, said they would fight the closure.

Mr Sanna said: “They said two or three traders weren’t compliant, but if that’s the case then you should shut those three down.

“Why do we have to pay the price for them? It’s so unfair and it’s just ridiculous.”

Leigh Humphreys, of Crystal Water fish mongers, said: “The whole time since March we’ve managed to keep people fed and so it doesn’t make much sense to shut a fresh food outlet when it means pushing people to indoor supermarkets, where they’re already busy.”

“They’re also basing their information on how busy the market is on Christmas trade, but now that that’s done it would’ve been best to check figures next week once the festive period is over.”

Market closure will be kept under review

The council said the market closure would be kept under review.

Cllr Rosy Moore, executive councillor for climate change, environment and city centre, said: “Public health and reducing the spread of this dangerous virus is our priority and that is behind our decision to temporarily close the market.

“There is a risk of serious overcrowding in the market square and we know that crowded outdoor locations, where people can’t socially distance, help the virus to spread.

“We need to ensure people can maintain a safe two metre distance from one another and when the market square is busy that is not possible.

“The market closure is under constant review and we are looking to reopen it for essential trade as soon as possible.”

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New strain of the virus circulating the area

Dr Liz Robin, director of public health at Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Covid-19 infection rates continue to rise across England, including in Cambridge city where rates are now more than four times higher than in early December and we are seeing increasing pressures on our NHS.

“One in three people with the virus will not show any symptoms – which makes it very easy to pass it on to others. We are also conscious that the new strain of the virus is circulating in this area, which is much more easily transmitted making it likely that more people will catch the infection.

“These facts mean that Cambridge city moved into Tier 4 from Boxing Day, and make it essential that the measures that stop the spread of the virus are adopted by everyone.

“People living in Tier 4 areas should stay at home as much as possible, only mix with those we live with all the time, wash or sanitise our hands well and often and stay in well ventilated places.

“If we go out for essential reasons like work, food shopping, education or worship we must keep at least two metres away from anyone we don’t live with and wear a mask where this is required.

“Although the risk of transmission of the infection is lower outside, it is still there and the risk is increased in areas where it is more difficult to avoid or control overcrowding or queuing.

“Stopping this virus is not easy and is not dependent on one factor. It is essential that we use all the opportunities that we have to decrease the risk, which is challenging after many months of living with the pandemic.”

*Traders who have not yet applied for additional business support grants can do so at cambridge.gov.uk/additional-business-support-grant.

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