Anger over Preston market hall 'gag' claim

Preston Market Hall where tenants are demanding reduced rents due to a fall-off in business.
Preston Market Hall where tenants are demanding reduced rents due to a fall-off in business.

A furious ex-councillor claims she has been “gagged” from challenging leaders at Preston Town Hall to stop the new market hall becoming an expensive white elephant.

Christine Abram, who was a Tory member for almost 20 years until 2018, was set to demand answers from the Labour-run authority over the future of the £3m glass building nicknamed the “Ice Cube.”

Former Coun Abram (inset), who quit the authority last year in frustration over how it was being run, tabled a series of questions for leader Coun Matthew Brown at Thursday’s full council meeting.

But she has now been told she will be barred from addressing the meeting because members of the public are only allowed to ask one question and she submitted seven.

She said: “I’m fuming. I think it is undemocratic. They had enough time to ask me to re-word my submission, yet they waited until after the deadline for questions had passed.

“I think it’s personal and the fact that I’m outspoken and will ask questions they would rather not answer. It was deliberate. But I won’t be gagged.”

The market hall controversy will be debated at the council meeting - but only in private without the press and public.

It is expected tenants will be offered a rent reduction after complaints that costs have increased and trade has fallen.

Mrs Abram intended to ask leader Coun Matthew Brown if he agrees the original design was flawed, how much the added porch has cost, is the council fully addressing the problem of pigeons (the building has no roof) and what the authority is doing to keep hold of current traders and attract new ones?

“The market hall has already lost a butcher, florist, sweet stall, hairpiece, jewellery and cafes. This cannot continue.”

Her protest comes as the council looks set to reduce rents for stallholders to prevent further departures. Traders have demanded a 50 per cent cut claiming business is well down because the building is cold and windy and demolition of the adjacent market hall car park has also led to a reduction in footfall.

Preston Council has been approached for a comment.