BUSINESS owners have spoken out against plans for a new bar.
Tomorrow, at Oxford City Council’s licensing committee, it will be decided whether the popular social enterprise, Tap Social, will be able to permit to serve alcohol at their new Covered Market venue, located in the unit where Hedge’s butchers previously lived.
The application asks to serve alcohol from 2pm until 10pm from Sunday to Thursday and serve alcohol from 2pm until midnight on Friday and Saturdays at the bar, coined the ‘Market Tap’.
The late-night license application and the lack of night-time security in the Covered Market, however, has led some of the market’s independent business owners to raise concerns.
Verity Piggot, who owns Bonner’s Fruit and Vegetables said: “We are not unhappy for the business to come into the market, and we welcome new business into the market that will bring more business to the market and more business to us.
“However, we are not happy with the late openings of the market, in excess of seven or eight o’clock without sufficient security in place and we do not feel as a business that we are supported enough currently for late openings.
“There needs to be much tighter security in place, and I think that’s probably where we stand, and I think if you were to speak to other businesses who did not have the chance to make an objection, then they would have the same comments.”
Plans for the award-winning, Botley-based brewers to open a new venue in the Covered Market were first revealed in February 2020 – one month later, the whole nation entered a lockdown which put the plans on hold for two years.
Umberto Freitas, who owns Browns café, echoed, the concerns adding: “I am more than welcome for them to come, as long as it is within the hours of the market.
“My problem is the late-night hours, and the security arrangements, and the problems that could arise from that – I feel that that has not been fully addressed, by the council and by The Tap Social as well.
“It’s nothing about Tap Social, they are a good organisation, and if they were going to be operating in trading hours, I would be fully behind them, it’s just this aspect of the night time activities, I feel very uncomfortable about it.”
Baron Robert Poujet, who has been running the Oxford Cheese Company in the market, for almost 40 years called the plans ‘irresponsible’.
He said: “You have got retail shops that will all be closed, and some have valuable things in them, including, alcohol, wine, spirits and if you have people who have just been obliterated with too much drink, with not enough supervision, it is asking for trouble.”
Not every business in the market, however, has opposed plans for the license.
Oli Gauntlett, who is the company director of The Market Cellar Door, said in a letter to the council: “We currently trade alongside Teardrop Bar in the Covered Market and are very much looking forward to Tap Social joining the Covered Market community.
“We feel strongly that Tap Social will enhance the customer experience in the market, both bringing new customers in and encouraging more businesses to open premises there.”
The letter continued: “Frankly, without Tap Social’s application being approved, our business plan and our reason for joining the market in Feb 2020 (with promises of evening trade from the council) will be at risk of failure.”
The council said it first met with traders in February 2020 to discuss plans about a bar operating where Hedges butchers used to be in the market – the pandemic is attributed as a reason for these plans being put on hold.
It said discussions began again last year, with traders meeting monthly on Zoom, as well as an in-person meeting between traders and the Tap Social last November.
A spokesperson for the council added: “It is hoped the new bar will bring in new business for other Covered Market traders – particularly food and drink businesses – as they have the opportunity to open later to benefit from people being in the market later.
“People will be able to shop later in the evenings and buy food and drink from a range of different traders, which they can consume in a lively central part of the market.
“Security will be of the utmost importance in this year-long trial, which will include CCTV throughout the market and security personnel in attendance. Security will remain under constant review to ensure the market remains a safe and secure environment for all visitors, businesses, and staff.”
A spokesperson for the Tap Social said: “The Oxford City Council have for many years now supported a project to pilot late opening of the Covered Market to breath new life into this great historic asset in Oxford’s city centre, increase footfall in the market for the benefit of all traders, and ensure the market can provide an appealing offering for the widest range of Oxford’s residents as possible.
“It is a shame that at present this historic shopping area in the heart of the centre is abandoned and shuttered daily at 5.30pm.
“The Oxford 2050 vision, put together by the City Council after a huge public consultation exercise, specifically mentions both investment in new businesses in the Covered Market, and the importance of nurturing and encouraging smaller venues like pubs as community assets, as priorities for the City now and in the immediate future.
“After the devastating impacts of 2 years of Covid restrictions, supporting hospitality businesses to recover has also never been more important if Oxford is to remain a vibrant cultural centre and a place visitors and residents alike want to return to in numbers.”
It added that no statutory consultee, such as Thames Valley Police or the council, had any objections to the premises licence application and that there had been a ‘lengthy and through consultation’
The statement continued: “The bar itself is tiny, with only space for a couple of tables inside, a fraction the size of even a small pub. It is proposed that this tiny licensed venue, run by an experienced and well-known responsible operator, will be supervised at all times in the evening by both trained staff and a minimum of 2 dedicated security personnel and monitored by an extensive network of CCTV.
“In these circumstances it is difficult to imagine what greater security considerations are being requested, but of course those minority of traders who have concerns are free to supplement these extensive security processes with more security of their own, or suggest further concrete measures which Tap Social and the City Council would be very happy to consider.
“However, to allow the ill-defined concerns of a couple of traders who have failed to engage constructively with several years of consultation to stand in the way of the progress of a project which enjoys the support of the City Council, many Oxford residents and has the potential to help re-boot the City’s struggling independent hospitality sector would be a huge missed opportunity to pilot something new and exciting in the heart of our city centre.”
The decision will be made tomorrow at 6pm at the Licensing and Gambling Act casework sub-committee.