Stall-holders feel winter chill after hike in market fees

TRADERS at Edinburgh's Highland Village Christmas Market say they might not be back this year after a massive hike in rental charges.

The market, which focuses on Scottish crafts and food, stands between the Edinburgh Wheel and the German Christmas Market on the Mound during the Capital's winter festivities.

This year, rent for the cheapest stall at the Highland market has risen from 3,500 to 5,000, with the most expensive shooting up from 4,000 to 7,000.

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Edinburgh Council, which runs the market, had also warned traders that they may have to relocate from the usual site if pavement works were carried out. But a spokeswoman today said a move had been ruled out.

Geoff Terry travels from North Berwick to sell organic snacks from the Mutley's Crepes stall at the market. He said: "The rent only used to be a couple of thousand. Now it's gone up from 4,000 to 7,000 and if people have lost their jobs there's going to be a downturn in spending. I'm looking at maybe a 20 per cent reduction in sales and almost a 100 per cent hike in rent.

"I bought two new crepe makers and a coffee machine for the market. I want to apply because I've spent all this money, but I can't really afford 7,000."

Stockbridge-based artist Aldona Juska, who sold her recycled copper sculptures and jewellery at last year's market, said: "I don't think I can afford to go back, it's just too risky. If people are 'hand-made' artists, how on earth can you afford that?"

Gordon Stewart, of John Muir Country Store in Tyninghame, East Lothian, said his bill for two food stalls would shoot up from 7,000 last year to 12,000 this year. He has not yet decided whether he will return.

He said: "Shocked is the understatement of the year. It will especially affect the smaller craft people, of which there are several.

"They couldn't afford last year's rent, so how are they going to afford this year's? It's going to be a damp squib if half the traders don't appear."

An Edinburgh Council spokeswoman said: "The rent on the Highland Village in the first two years was set as low as possible to establish the new set-up of the market with the new lodges, which were paid for by the council. It has been hugely successful and we have been oversubscribed both years for a place in the market.

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"Extensive research carried out with other market operators and on the advice of our event producer led to us increasing the rent to similar levels of other markets.

"We believe the new rents better reflect the amount of business being enjoyed by market traders at this very busy time of year, given that they have exposure to 440,000 people at a rate of around 128 per day which includes all their utility bills, 24 hour security as well as advertising."

This year's Highland Village Christmas Market runs from 27 November to 4 January.