18 December 1998
Farmers bid to save Bury market
By Tim Relf
EAST ANGLIAN farmers have launched their bid to save Bury St Edmunds historic livestock market.
More than 100 people pledged money at a meeting last week to keep the site running while planning permission is sought for a new one at nearby Stanton.
The lifeline came just days ahead of next Wednesdays planned closure of the mart, announced last month by auctioneers Lacy Scott and Knight in the face of a 50% fall in commission income this year.
“We must not lose markets; we need an alternative to deadweight,” says Francis Read, one of the farmers spearheading the move. “We have to have a place to trade store stock.”
Loss of the auction would prompt more people in the region to quit livestock production, he adds. “It is sad, but a lot have already said enough is enough.”
The widespread support for the scheme sends a clear message to critics of the auction system, says Mr Read. “If there is this much support and we can do this in area where there is relatively little livestock, just think what could be done in the big livestock producing areas.”
More and more marts have disappeared in recent times, says Richard Staveley, another supporter of the venture. “Now all of a sudden, Bury is the only one left in Suffolk.”
The market represents more than just a place to buy and sell stock, he says. “It is a way of life. I have been coming to Bury every Wednesday for as long as I can remember.”
Peter Crichton, consultant to the group, says members will each contribute a £500 minimum subscription which will entitle them to shares and equal voting rights in the new company, Anglian Farmers Market. Loan stock will also be raised.
The town venue will be used until the new facilities – to be built by local farmer and businessman Paul Rackham – are up and running, possibly within nine months.
“The support was amazing last week, and all the ingredients are now in place,” says Mr Crichton. Interest came from livestock producers, arable farmers and even those not directly involved in agriculture, he adds.
The new site, 12 miles north-east of Bury, will be let to the farmers company, at an initial rent of about 5% of the £1 million construction costs.
“Good news,” says John Martin, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association of the plan. “It demonstrates the importance farmers attach to their market.”
But not everyone shares that enthusiasm. “Auctioneers around the country are in dire straits,” claims abattoir boss Andrew Chitty. “Markets are another overhead at a time when we are all about driving costs out of the industry, not adding them in.”