Chichester’s Christmas market ‘could’ve been as big as Bath or Winchester’ but the man behind the existing event says he won’t return at all this year due to issues with licensing.
Paul Bishopp, who runs Woodland Crafts, said he wanted to expand the Christmas market in particular but a limited set up period of just 12 hours overnight and no year on year certainty had made that vision impossible.
He said last year’s trading licence for the Christmas event, which includes a live nativity, was only cleared on November 16, just weeks ahead of when it was due to start on December 8, leaving him to carry the financial risk for the year.
He said: “All I wanted was short and medium-term security and I could invest in proper chalets of something like that, knowing that we had a reasonable amount of time in future that we were sure that we could run that event.”
He said that as an event organiser, he had run markets with 300 to 400 stalls and running a Christmas market to match Bath or Winchester would have been no problem: “Just don’t give me 12 hours to set up.”
Chichester District Council has said in the five years it had worked with Woodland Crafts, it has never issued a licence late or refused one for Mr Bishopp, who ran four market events a year in the city.
A spokeswoman said the council understood some of the issues raised by the company but ‘most of these are largely out of our control’.
She said: “Because the land is owned by West Sussex County Council, and we receive applications by a variety of other operators, we cannot give long-term street trading consent, so consent needs to be given on a year by year basis.
“The set up time is limited to 12 hours because the location is a pedestrian area. West Sussex County Council byelaws limit vehicle use to emergency, and refuse and recycling collection vehicles only between 9am and 6pm. This also applies to our own Farmers’ Market.”
She clarified that applications submitted several months in advance would be given a reserved slot in the road space calendar but consultation with partners was sometimes carried out ‘a lot later’.
She said: “This is so we can see what other applications come in, check for any clashes and to allow partners to examine each individual application on its own merits. We always explain these arrangements to applicants and Woodland Crafts were always aware of this process.”
Mr Bishopp told the Observer he had had nothing but a postive relationship with the BID and shopkeepers, who would sometimes offer cups of tea to stallholders and helped setting up electricity supplies and it was a ‘great shame’ to leave the city.
He said he had previously put a proposal forward to expand the existing market area into East Street and North Street and could have drawn in more visitors if pre-booked coach parking had been available.
“We could’ve made it a real destination for Chichester and nobody seemed to want to have us do that.”
He said another issue he had faced in the city was peddlars setting up stalls within his licensed area in direct competition to stallholders, taking up pitches and being conflated with the main market.
Chichester District Council said peddlar licenses were given and enforced by police and it had supported police with enforcement action.
A Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in the city centre requires any licensed peddler to move on to a different location after 20 minutes in one spot.
A council spokesperson added: “We are sorry that Woodland Crafts have taken the decision not to return to the city, but we are looking into alternative providers in partnership with the Chichester Business Improvement District (BID).”