THE firm in charge of running Darlington's Indoor Market has responded to criticism from some market stall traders over rental costs.

Market Asset Management, which describes the market as the "UK’s finest covered market” has been criticised for not reducing trader costs, despite claims footfall has dropped.

The firm, which took over the running of the market from Darlington Borough Council two years ago, recently submitted plans to redevelop the site, which bosses claimed would improve shopping experience and "bring the market into the 21st century".

However, over the past year, some existing market traders have had no option but to leave, according to one stall holder.

The trader, who wishes to remain anonymous, said market stall holders were still having to pay “top money” despite a fall in customer numbers, and no reduction in rent to reflect trading conditions.

The trader said: “There’s just no footfall, MAM raised prices by charging VAT that people hadn’t had to paid for.

“We pay hundreds a week, top money for it, but there’s no customers."

The trader added: "A pet shop closed in February, and another stall has had to move into the middle where there's more customers."

In 2016, a court case brought by Inland Revenue ruled that craft market providers and antique market providers did not fall under Land Exemption and were not exempt from paying VAT.

As part of the ruling, it meant firms like Market Asset Management could “demand” up to four years of backdated VAT payments from traders, as well as charge VAT on top of existing rents.

Responding to concerns, a company spokeswoman said: “This was not a decision taken lightly, but over 60 percent of businesses operating from Darlington Market were VAT registered, meaning they claim back the VAT they pay on rents and third party supplies, so it has no impact on their business' bottom line."

The firm claims they had initially offered to support non-vat-able businesses to become VAT registered, while they claimed base rent had not increased.

She said: "In this situation certainty can be achieved by opting to tax, which also allows MAM to reclaim VAT paid for various aspects of the building maintenance, and more importantly the redevelopment, enabling us to invest significantly more in the market development."

The spokesperson added: “We have checked footfall figures against the previous two years’ data, and they are very comparable.

"There have been a few dips this year which corresponded with bad weather, and I understand the whole of the high street has been quiet on those days.

"We have undertaken a number of initiatives to increase footfall, including bringing in events and exhibitions into the newly developed pop-up space, putting in a flower selfie wall, having artisan food markets in the market hall and creating themed trails for children. A number of the businesses in the market have told us that since MAM took over the running of the market they have had a record breaking year."

A consultation into the planning application has since opened and can be found at