14 February 1997

Sussex mart fight taken to the Lords

By Tim Relf

OPPONENTS to the closure of Hailsham market in Sussex have taken their fight to the House of Lords.

Members of the action group petitioned last week against the move by Hailsham Cattle Market Co, the sites owners, to relieve them of a historic legal obligation to hold a livestock mart.

Action group chairman and local dairy farmer Phil Hook says, as Sussexs last cattle market, Hailshams disappearance would force farmers to make longer and more expensive trips elsewhere to sell stock.

"Small family farms have insufficient time and businesses could be at risk," he says.

Much of the area is of a high environmental quality, says Mr Hook. If the market disappears, so too will many of the cattle – and with them the carefully managed grazing regimes upon which the environment depends.

Oppose the closure

The NFU and the CLA also oppose the closure. Deadweight buyers continue to rely on live markets for their prices, says NFU south-east senior policy adviser Paul Ibbott. "So we lose these markets at our peril."

Independent butchers, who rely on buying animals locally, could also suffer, according to the NFU. And this at a time when more emphasis is being placed on local sourcing and traceability of animals to sustain consumer confidence in meat.

But others argue that, with dwindling throughput, the mart is doomed anyway, and point to problems with location and access.

A spokesman for Carter Commercial Developments, another firm calling for the closure, said an application for planning permission for a supermarket on the site would be submitted later this year.

South East Marts, currently the auctioneers at Hailsham, is keen for it to remain, but say it is not presently financially viable. On the basis of existing throughput, it will lose £45,000 this year, according to managing director Chris Sykes.

The company says that over the past 20 years – and particularly since 1989 when BSE first hit the headlines – the trend has been towards direct marketing, deadweight selling and computer-based dealing.

"Not only must a higher cattle and sheep throughput be secured, but it also needs to be open seven days a week for other income generating activities," says Mr Sykes. The companys flagship site at Guildford holds car boot sales, for example.

South East Marts, meanwhile, has hit back at accusations that they are "asset-stripping" following their takeover by the Cibus (formerly ADM) Group of Eastbourne in 1995.

"We are leaseholders and have been given notice by the owner that the lease will not be renewed when it runs out in five years," says Mr Sykes.

Members of Hailsham Market Action Group took their case to the House of Lords last week. Along with the NFU and the CLA, they are fighting the closure of Sussexs last cattle mart. Farmer Phil Hook (seen second from left) says if it disappears, the local farming community and environment will suffer. Others see it differently, claiming the site is antiquated and doomed anyway. The debate goes on…