September 16 2014 Latest news:
Mariam Ghaemi, West Suffolk reporter
Thursday, September 4, 2014
The rights of political or pressure groups to express their freedom of speech by holding market stalls could end up being protected after a row over a council policy came to a head.
St Edmundsbury Borough Council was looking to change market licence regulations which would have meant that political parties as well as groups such as the Fawcett Society would have been banned from having a stall.
But on Tuesday the borough council’s cabinet decided to defer a decision on the regulation following opposition to the proposal.
The council is now looking at how it can balance the needs of the market traders, while providing areas where pressure groups and political parties can best be supported in exercising their right to freedom of expression within the town centres.
Ahead of the cabinet meeting, Avril Dawson, chairwoman of the Bury St Edmunds Group of Amnesty International, had written to Alaric Pugh, St Edmundsbury’s cabinet member for economic growth, expressing strong concerns about the original proposal.
She wrote: “We understand the rationale for this proposal is that the market should be reserved as a ‘concourse for buyers and sellers’. However is not the exchange of ideas and views of equal importance to the buying and selling of goods?”
She added: “It seems particularly inappropriate for the council to consider such a measure in a year when it is commemorating the 800th anniversary of the meeting of the barons at the Abbey prior to the Magna Carta.”
Others to express opposition to the move include Haverhill borough councillor Gordon Cox, who said at Tuesday’s meeting: “The borough council, as a public authority, cannot impose restrictions that contravene the Human Rights Act articles 10, 11 and 14.”
Darren Old, chairman of the Bury St Edmunds branch of the National Market Traders’ Federation (NMTF), said: “Political parties or pressure groups have no place on a market where the majority of people are selling their wares and services.”
Mr Old, who is also a member of the executive board of the NMTF, added the confrontation political or pressure groups could cause as people expressed different views was also a concern.
“The only reason these groups are coming to Bury on market day is because the market creates the footfall. If they really want to express their feelings or views there’s five other days they can do that,” he said.
On the reasons for the rethink, Mr Pugh said: “We have had one letter and a small number of emails, but we do want to ensure that all possible concerns have been taken into account and we deliver the best achievable solution.
“I expect the report to be completed as soon as possible. Deferring this single clause about the relationship of non-trading activity to our markets has enabled the full new market regulations to come into force to benefit everyone after a huge amount of hard work by traders, officers and my predecessors. Our markets could be the best in Britain.”
A decision should be made before Christmas on the regulation relating to non-trading activity by political parties or pressure groups on the markets.
The other new market licence regulations - which cover everything from the disposal of litter, to health and safety and the conduct of the traders themselves - were approved at the cabinet meeting.