COUNCILLORS have hit out at the organisers of a popular food festival accusing them of not putting local traders first.

Market traders who operate from the Market Place in Bishop Auckland on a weekly basis have been moved from their regular positions or told not to turn up when the town’s annual food festival takes place this month (April).

Members of Bishop Auckland Town Council say this is unacceptable and are demanding a meeting with organisers to voice their concerns.

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Councillors believe businesses in south west Durham should be given priority at Bishop Auckland Food Festival and are unhappy spaces have been reserved for traders in Yorkshire and Cumbria.

However, Melanie Sensicle, chief executive of Visit County Durham, which organises the event, said she can understand the disappointment of those who had missed out but two-day extravaganza is heavily over-subscribed.

Speaking at Bishop Auckland Town Council meeting, Councillor Barbara Laurie said: “When it started out it was a showcase for south west Durham and now it is being opened to producers in Northumberland and Cumbria.

“The organisers haven’t got that much room. I really don’t think it is a good idea.”

Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Councillor Charlie Kay said: “We want the food festival to expand, but not at the expense of the little guy.

“It is one thing saying they are going to move someone, but it is another saying you can’t come at all. We need to know why they have been excluded.

Councillor Alan Anderson added: “As one of the main sponsors we need to have our say. It is getting bigger and bigger and stop this before it gets completely out of hand.”

Mrs Sensicle said: "The Bishop Auckland Food Festival is evolving into one of the largest, most vibrant annual festivals in the Durham calendar and offers a growing number of local and regional food producers an opportunity to showcase their products to tens of thousands of people.

"There are many economic benefits to the county linked to the event which is aiming to grow a national reputation for Durham and Bishop Auckland.

She added: "The 2013 event is heavily over-subscribed, with almost twice the number of applicants as there are stalls available, which means that not all traders have secured a place this year.

“The emphasis is on food and an impressive 45 home-grown, County Durham businesses are taking part in the 2013 event.”