29 May 1998

Midland Marts Banbury site forced into closure

By Robert Forster

MIDLAND Marts at Banbury, which in the mid-1980s was the biggest livestock sales centre in Britain, is to close down next Thursday (June 4).

Its management has still to secure planning permission for a new market by the M40 and has decided to vacate its town centre site when the lease expires.

But some of the Banbury business could be absorbed by nearby Northamptonshire Auctions, which confirmed this week it had been in touch with key members of Midland Marts auction staff. It has already re-scheduled its primestock sale days for the week beginning June 8.

According to Midland Marts chairman, Jim Watson, the company has been caught in a planning trap.

"It is financially impossible to continue in our current situation. We had hoped to move to our new site at Huscote Farm, but planning approval has been called in by the Secretary of State for the Environ-ment and it could take at least two years to get a decision," he said.

"At the same time we are being beaten by the huge rent, rate, water and effluent overheads that go with the Banbury site as well as the fall in commission income due to the regional decline in cattle numbers and livestock prices. We have been put in a corner in which we can do nothing else because it is financially impossible to continue by renewing the lease."

Local councillors gave planning permission for the Huscote Farm development in March, but some MPs have supported objections from the nearby South Northamptonshire District Council and the Secretary of State has to decide whether green belt regulations and out-of-town development codes may be breached.

"Turnover has been decimated by the drift into arable farming and the repercussions of BSE and we do not see any prospect of prices recovering significantly in the short term," said managing director, Ian Smethurst.

"In financial terms we were only able to tread water in 1997 and have seen real damage to our returns during 1998, so we are left with no other option except to close."

Farmers are shocked to hear of the closure, writes Robert Harris. Ben Humphrey, of Upper Court, near Brackley, Northants, sold about 8000 fat lambs a year at Banbury.

"It is a very sad blow to the livestock industry in the midlands. I shall have to travel 25 to 30 miles to the nearest market, but there wont be the buyers there were at Banbury. There was a demand for everything."

William Cumber, of Manor Farm, Abingdon, Oxon, who sold cull sows and boars at the market, reckoned he would be worse off. "Cull pigs always made that little bit more. It is very sad, particularly as I was one of the relatively few people who put some money in to support the building of the new market." &#42

Banbury Stockyards will cease to exist from next Thursday due to a combination of planning delays, high costs and reduced throughput.