28 July 1997
Lords concern at threat to 700-year-old market

Controversial plans to close a 700-year-old cattle market in the centre of Hailsham, Sussex, came under sustained attack in the Lords on Friday.

The Hailsham Cattle Market Bill, a private measure, would repeal legislation passed in 1871 requiring the Hailsham Cattle Market Company to run a town centre cattle market.

The company, whose profits have been hit by the BSE crisis, wants to be free to close the market at any time from the start of next year. The markets tenants, South East Marts, are keen to leave the site before their lease expires in 2001.

The Bills promoters have offered to provide an alternative market two miles from the town centre, but objectors doubt if this will be adequate. The objectors, including local farmers and Wealden District Council, fear that the town-centre site will be used instead for a supermarket.

Tory Lord Kenilworth, the Bills sponsor, sought to assure peers that the market was “no longer a viable commercial proposition”. At just three acres, it was “too small to be profitable and environmentally sound”.

The company should, he argued, be relieved of its legal obligation to provide a market: “The duty imposed upon the company by the 1871 Act is incompatible with the market economy and the principles of supply and demand,” he said. “It is unjust that the shareholders of the property company should be burdened with the responsibility of carrying out a commercial enterprise which is demonstrably doomed to failure.”

Speaking against the Bill, Tory former health minister Baroness Cumberlege, whose farmer husband uses the market, said: “Hailsham Market has thrived for 750 years, and I really do wonder – if it was a stately home, I am sure it would be fiercely protected.

“The loss of the market threatens not only the way of life of the farming community, but the appearance of the landscape and the ecology of one of the most beautiful parts of Britain.”

The Bill received an unopposed second reading, but Tory frontbencher Lord Lucas indicated that it might yet be killed off when it returns for its third reading.

Andrew Evans, PA News