By BELINDA SCOTT
A TOUGH ultimatum from Coffs Harbour City Council has upset Coffs Coast Growers' Market stallholders like Gary Rollans.
Mr Rollans was one of a number of market stallholders who received letters this week telling them their place at the market had been cancelled because they had packed up their stalls before the new finishing time of 5pm.
The letter went on to say that stallholders who wanted to regain entry to the market would not be able to return until the council had received and considered their written explanation of their actions and had signed an agreement that they would not do so again.
"In the meantime your space will be offered to other stallholders and if at any time you decide to reapply to come back, you will be treated as a new stallholder," said the letter, signed by council's new economic development manager Megan Dixon.
Ms Dixon was not available for comment yesterday.
"I was really offended by the letter. It was not at all diplomatic and I thought it was very harsh," Mr Rollans said. "I was the first stallholder there. I missed one market so I didn't know about the new closing time of 5pm and I had to leave at (the previous closing time of) 3pm because I had to bottle 2000 bottles of water that afternoon."
Mr Rollans, whose Orara Valley Spring Water stall was one of the very first stands to set up in the market when it began 17 months ago, said the growers market had been great for his business and was his main marketing tool, but the new finishing time would mean a 14- to 15-hour market day, which was very long for stallholders who were also farmers and he thought it would have been more appropriate to give them a warning.
The letter said stallholders who packed up and left the market before the agreed finishing time of 5pm put themselves and the council at risk of compensation and a fine from Workcover if anyone was injured.
Jenny Oloman, the chief facilitator for Streets Ahead, the council body which manages the market, said she had seen the letter before it went out to stallholders and did not think it was too harsh.
She said council rangers had advised that it was unsafe to have market tents and produce being packed up and moved across City Square before 5pm and market stallholders had been advised of this.
She said a committee of five stallholders had suggested and voted for the 5pm closure and no pressure had been applied by council.
Ms Oloman said unlike other markets like the Jetty Market or Bellingen Market, the market site was on public land in the centre of a busy retailing district and was the only one receiving council financial support.
She said while this meant maximising benefits to both retailers and stallholders, it also meant stallholders had to comply with council occupational health and safety requirements and had to fit into the retail environment.
Two other stallholders spoken to yesterday were reluctant to comment on the record, saying they wanted to continue selling at the market and feared being discriminated against if they spoke out.
But both stallholders said there was no financial benefit in having the market remain open after 3pm because their sales after this time were minimal. One said the majority of stallholders had signed a petition asking for the market to be allowed to close at 3pm and one said the council had breached its own guidelines in sending the ultimatum as he had received no individual warning of the change.
The opening and closing time of the fortnightly market has been changed three times since it opened, to establish the best trading hours.
Another market stallholder said it was unfortunate that a small number of traders had used one or two Harbour Drive parking spaces to load up their stalls around 3pm, and one Harbour Drive retailer had complained about this use of the parking spaces affecting his business.
There have been allegations that the ultimatum is being used to replace original stallholders, but Mrs Oloman denied this. All the stallholders spoken to were happy with the financial return from the fortnightly growers market, which has grown steadily in size.
The Coffs Coast Growers' Market will be held again today in the City Square from 8.30am to 5pm.