COUNCILLORS have offered to pay just £1 a year to run their town's weekly market after an earlier effort to find a new operator drew a blank.

An initial contract to run Barnard Castle's Wednesday market was put out to tender by Durham County Council last September and officials hoped a new regime would be in place by the end of October.

However, the authority insisted a new operator would have to pay at least £5,000 a year for a licence to run the market.

That drew a furious response from local councillors, who believe the market – which dates back centuries - belongs to the town, not the county council.

They said charging a minimum annual licence fee of £5,000 would also make it impossible for the market to cover its costs.

Durham County Council, which took over responsibility for the market when Teesdale District Council was abolished in 2009, has now removed the clause demanding a minimum £5,000 licence fee.

As a result, Barnard Castle Town Council agreed to lodge a bid and clerk Michael King confirmed the tender documents had been submitted before last Friday's (March 14) deadline.

He said councillors had reiterated their views first made last year that any licence fee should be kept to an absolute minimum and offered a token £1 a year in peppercorn rent to the county council.

“Members believe it is important to secure the management of the market in the community but can't afford to pay a premium,” he said.

Barnard Castle is one of a number of weekly markets which Durham County Council is seeking to offload.

Owen Cleugh, consumer protection manager, said the authority had been successful in some cases.

“As a result of our earlier exercise we have been successful in finding an external operator for the markets in Chester-le-Street, Stanley and Seaham.

“These new arrangements will take effect from April 1.”

He added: “Feedback also indicated that the original minimum fees for other markets were prohibitive.

“As a result we have dropped that requirement and are looking for expressions of interest from anyone wanting to operate quality markets in Barnard Castle, Crook, Spennymoor, Consett and Bishop Auckland.”