No end is in sight to the problems besetting Hawick’s Saturday market, councillors have warned.
The market has been trading at the town’s Common Haugh for the last 40 years, but it has seen a sharp decline in both stall-holders and shoppers over the last few years.
It has been run by Geraud UK, part of the French company Groupe Geraud, since 2015, but its £5,000-a-year contract expires in September 2020 and a new operator is now being sought to take it over.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson bemoaned the decline of the market at Tuesday’s meeting of the town’s common good committee, saying: “I went to the market the other week. It’s dying.
“There are regular people who go into the market, but from what it used to be, it is dying a death.
“We have to ask is the market still an asset to the town?
“Years ago, we used to get a lot of visitors. I was once talking to guy who owns a nearby pub and he told me to please keep the market as market day was his busiest day of the week.
“A lot of traders used to get passing trade from the market, but they’re not getting that now.
“Is there any chance we could find another buyer?”
In response, council officers told councillors that so far they had only received an inquiry from one trader, from Newcastle, but had since lost touch.
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall urged the committee to resist the temptation to act with undue haste, saying: “We all recognise the problems. It’s not going to be a quick fix.
“They’re paying the rent, but Geraud haven’t really bothered much with the market. They said they would do all sorts with the market, but that didn’t happen. It didn’t materialise.
“I think we should revisit this later. It’s going to take time to thrash out the answer to the question of will we have a market or won’t we?
“We have 18 months. We should take our time.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer also criticised the market’s current bosses for not getting more involved.
“Geraud have a responsibility to the market in terms of the contract, but they abdicate that responsibility by not sending anybody to the market,” he said.
“The market has now been overtaken by car boot sales.
“In the middle of it we now have a horsebox. It looks awful. I don’t know where it’s come from.
“The whole control over the market – how it looks, how it’s presented, what it’s going to deliver – will never move on if we leave it like that and try to sell the contract on if that is the proposition.
“I know it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, but they’re not fulfilling their obligations in terms of managing the market.
“There is a bit of a hard edge here that if they’re not going to send someone up, then someone’s going to have to go down on a Saturday and look at the health and safety aspects and see if they comply with that.”
Councillors sitting were asked whether they would like to continue looking for a new market manager or consider other options, such as closure or changing the frequency of market days.
The committee voted to continue marketing the contract, but its chairman, Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull, described the situation as unsatisfactory, saying: “Some stall-holders have been very loyal to the market over the years and they find it frustrating that Geraud has not done the things it said it was going to do.
“There’s a loyal customer base that still supports them, and that’s why they’re still there.
“The last thing we want to be seen to be doing is killing it, but technically it’s killing itself.”