Cattle market future in the balance

THE future of Hailsham's historic livestock market comes under the spotlight today (Wednesday) when supermarket firm Aldi starts its appeal to get a store built on the site.

The public inquiry kicks off this morning at the Boship Farm Hotel and is expected to last until next Wednesday (February 18).

A government planning inspector will hear evidence from both Aldi and Wealden District Council before making a final decision at a later date.

Both sides have been setting out their cases in reports to the inquiry which have been made public over the last weeks.

Planning consultant David Hall, on behalf of Wealden District Council, said the market must be saved to protect the local farming community and the town's economy.

He said Hailsham, which was guaranteed a market by royal charter in 1252, is one of only two remaining commercial livestock markets in the south east and brought a number of benefits to the local agricultural industry.

He said, "The livestock market provides a facility for open market sales of all types of agricultural livestock which, in turn, benefits and helps protect open countryside and nature conservation in the local agricultural area.

"It is an important part of the agricultural industry in the locality that a livestock market remains in the area to sell fattened animals to those remaining local butchers in the Hailsham area.

"Should the cattle market at Hailsham close, the additional cost of transporting animals both in time, labour and fuel, would add further unnecessary costs to the livestock producer. In addition, there is the distress of additional transportation imposed upon animals and the detrimental effect it has on their condition."

But Aldi hit back, branding Hailsham's livestock market 'dilapidated' and insisting a new store would bring 'significantly more employment' to the town.

Aldi's planning consultant Ben Ellis said the market's use had 'reduced significantly' and it was operating on 'a financial knife-edge'.

He said, "The market no longer requires the full extent of its wider site to operate. The site is in a dilapidated condition and it appears increasingly difficult to maintain a reasonable level of upkeep to the overall site.

"There is no evidence that the cattle market contributes to the vitality and viability of Hailsham. The cattle market sells only livestock and as such it is questionable to what extent it will attract customers to the town centre for retail purposes.

"In terms of local employment opportunities, the site currently only employs three people. As such, the Aldi store will generate significantly more employment opportunities than the existing use."

Hailsham MP Charles Hendry said keeping the market open is 'essential for our rural economy'.

He told the Gazette, "Hailsham is one of the few cattle markets in the south-east. Apart from Ashford, the nearest other cattle markets are more than 100 miles away.

"It is essential for our rural economy that the Hailsham cattle market continues to operate and I would be very strongly opposed to any re-development of the current site being permitted before a new site has been found and is operational."