CALLS to relocate an historic outdoor market hit by the Covid-19 pandemic have been rejected amid concerns for social distancing.

Darlington Borough Council’s economy cabinet member Councillor Alan Marshall said the authority, which is managing an area under Tier 3 restrictions, said it was not considered sufficiently safe to allow traders to move from the market square to streets such as High Row and Northgate.

The outdoor market, which can trace its roots back to at least the 12th century, was moved earlier this year amid concerns over traders and shoppers’ ability to social distance in the main shopping area.

It is understood, in an effort to help the traders and make the most of the festive season, the council will allow eight consecutive days’ trading from the Thursday before Christmas. However, traders said takings remain about 50 per cent down on last year with many customers choosing not to visit the town centre or shop online more.

A meeting of the council heard traders had presented to the council to support how the market could be safely operated in areas such as High Row, West Row, Bondgate and Northgate.

Councillor Libby McCollom, whose ward includes the town centre, said the lack of infrastructure on the market square had deterred some casual traders. She said: “You will be aware of the difficult conditions facing traders down there, including a lack of footfall and a lack of infrastructure at the site that is threatening our historic outdoor market.

“The decision to move the market from the square over a decade ago was predicated upon those areas benefitting from better visibility to support impulse purchasing, as well as the input of anchors to supporting gazebos.”

Cllr Marshall replied that the authority had met with traders’ representatives, but was unable to meet their relocation request.

He said: “We are still in a Covid situation. We feel the social distancing requirements that we can best put in place on the market square are still current and we aren’t going to change it.”