A BITTER row over a rent dispute at Barnsley Market resulted in traders walking out yesterday to stage a protest - and shoppers have been warned more could follow unless an agreement is struck.

It comes after Barnsley Council slashed charges for those with stalls upstairs by 50 per cent, but left rent unchanged on the ground floor.

Traders have called for parity between both levels, but accused the council of not listening to their voices.

An hour-long protest took place at the market’s Cheapside entrance, which saw ground floor stallholders close early to take part in a bid to force the council’s hand.

Trader Mark Arnold, of Repair IT, said: “All we’re calling for is parity - some have had 50 per cent reductions and we need help to keep trading.

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“We don’t want to keep walking out but as our voices aren’t being heard, we feel it’s the only thing that will get the council’s attention.

“We’ve got January and February on the horizon and they’re the traditional times of year where traders really struggle.

“There’s a brilliant regeneration going on in the town centre at the minute and we’re at the centre of that, but Barnsley isn’t Barnsley without its market and the traders are central to that.”

President of the National Market Traders Federation, Michael Nicholson, warned the impasse could result in long-running stallholders being forced to throw in the towel.

“We want to negotiate with the council and have a proper discussion, but so far we’re the ones who have been seeking dialogue and not receiving anything back,” he said. “Fair rents need to be in place for everyone.

“High street retailers, those with big names and many employees, are forcing landlords into reducing their rents because they have to do that to survive.

“Barnsley’s traders are independent, often family-run and the heart and soul of the town. They need protecting and they need help but they don’t appear to be getting that.”

Coun Tim Cheetham said all traders were included in the consultation process prior to the rent reduction coming in from September 1 and urged shoppers to continue supporting the market.

“As a responsible landlord, we have regular discussions with our market traders about improvements that can be made,” he added.

“Recent conversations with traders suggested there was a difference in trading position between the ground level and first floor of the market.

“We decided to look into this, opening up further discussions with traders. After listening to feedback, we proposed a 50 per cent reduction in rent for first floor traders.

“After taking this to a consultation, the results showed that the majority of traders who responded were happy with the proposal.

“Ground floor traders also have the option to move to the first floor if they wish to take advantage of the discount.

“The rent reduction will not only help support traders on the upper level, but also help attract new businesses into the market to ensure it continues to be a vibrant shopping destination.

“The market will be supported by the addition of new operators in Market Kitchen, which promises to be an exciting addition to the market, wider Glass Works and town centre.

“As always, I would like to encourage the people of Barnsley to continue to support our fantastic traders and brilliant market by shopping locally.”