Put fair in a field and give St Ives traders a chance to earn a living

In a 2012 survey, 83 per cent of St Ives traders surveyed found the Michaelmas fair bad for business, just two per cent saying it helped trade.

In recent newspaper articles, the Mayor of St Ives said that “the fair took place over three days each year and it was thought that if trade was affected it bounced back at the end of the week”.

This year, we asked a sample 21 of retail businesses of all types all around the town: “Did your trade bounce back at the end of the week?” and 100 per cent said no.

In addition may we remind you that:

1. The town council and/or Huntingdonshire District Council are receiving money from the fair operator for use of the centre. The town centre businesses take a huge loss in trade for the whole week – up to two per cent of their yearly turnover.

2. We are concerned that the town council totally hands over our town centre to the fair. The fair is laid out by the fair operator/Showmen’s Guild representative using guidance that is for an “open field” site not a historic town centre. This person also runs attractions and makes money from the fair. We believe the safety of our town centre should be in professional, impartial hands.

3. That the town council has been informed by the Fire Authority that fair attractions positioned close to shop fronts will increase damage to the shop in the event of a fire, and increase the likelihood of adjoining shops being affected. The town council has chosen to do nothing!

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4. The town council has been informed that some businesses may have the escape distances from their premises increased by the fair layout. These distances, clear of obstructions, are controlled by Act of Parliament. The town council has chosen to do nothing.

5. The businesses in the town centre have to obey lots of regulations that the Michaelmas Fair just ignores. The lessons of the fire which destroyed a great part of Camden Lock in 2008 have not been taken on board. The town council is of the opinion that the apportionment of liability in the event of a major incident would be difficult to prove. Therefore, it would be wholly carried by the businesses and not the fair operator and town council because of the difficulty of proving a chain of liability. The town council has chosen to do nothing.

6. The town council has been told that some businesses’ insurance policies may be invalidated by the mismanagement described above. The town council has chosen to do nothing!

From the above, we believe that the town council is gambling with the economic safety of the businesses in the town centre.

The Michaelmas Fair we have had for the last few years is not unique. Similar events are now held all over the county. If the town council wants to host events like this, wouldn’t it be better held in the summer on an out-of-town field.

St Ives is a unique market town that deserves a unique Michaelmas Fair. A fair that is in scale with the town, that respects the rights of businesses working in the town centre to continue trading, and that respects the rights of the residents in the town centre to be able to come home at night and be able to rest.

Such an event would be a genuine way to draw people into the town centre.

Richard Waters

Time for Health

Station Road

St Ives

Editor’s note: The town clerk Alison Melnyczuk’s response to Dr Waters is printed below:

On January 22, a meeting was held between representatives of the Retail Group, the Town Mayor, Cllr Dobson and myself, at the request of the Retail Group, to discuss various issues relating to the Michaelmas Fair.

The discussion centred on the positioning of the fair in the town centre, alleged loss of trade by town centre businesses and an alleged increase in shop lifting whilst the fair is in town.

As a result of this meeting, it was agreed that I would investigate the feasibility of relocation and discuss with the police the allegation of increased shoplifting.

At the same time, the representatives of the Retail Group agreed to provide written evidence to prove the allegation that businesses loose trade during the week the fair is in town.

I completed my investigation by February 25 and requested an update from the representatives concerning the data they were to provide and a date for a follow-up meeting.

I sent a further request for a meeting to discuss the outcomes of the investigations on April 24 and to date have still not received any indication of when this meeting will take place.

I, therefore, formally request that should you be in a position to provide the written evidence to back up your allegations of loss of trade you contact me at your earliest convenience so that we can meet to discuss it further.

The allegations throughout your letter that the town council has chosen to do nothing regarding the safety of the businesses and the town centre I fully refute.

The town council annually liaises with the police and fire service over the location and layout of the fair and, in conjunction with the Showmen’s Guild, takes steps to implement any changes that are requested or suggested.

As you are aware from previous correspondence and meetings we have had regarding fire safety, the fire officer is satisfied that all reasonable measures were taken.