Protectionism claims

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Farmers Market says fees loaded against out-of-towners.

Council levies aimed at protecting local interests are driving out-of-town stallholders away, claims Queenstown’s Farmers Market.

The market’s new Saturday morning home at the St Peter’s Anglican Church green is proving a hit with customers but market boss Sharlene Inch believes increased red-tape and rising costs for outside traders mean vendor numbers are lower than they should be.

She says the fee for produce sellers from outside the district has jumped from $112 to $300 a year – “a rise of some 170 per cent”.

Local stallholders don’t pay anything as their council charges have been scrapped this year.

The new rules were introduced by Lakes Environ­mental, the regulatory quango of Queens­town Lakes District Council.

“In a way, LE has tried to make it easier for [sellers from] within the area because at one stage the fee increase was going to apply to everyone,” says Inch.

“We came to an agreement that anyone within the Lakes District was going to have that fee waived.

“But unfortunately I really rely on produce coming from, say, Alexandra and Roxburgh – because that’s where all your fruit and vegetables come from and that’s what customers want.

“A few people have been put off and I’ve lost five or six [stallholders] because of those [cost] reasons.”

Inch adds: “My resource consent is capped at 25 stalls which I’m happy with – [but] there were only 12 there last weekend.”

Roxburgh-based fruit and berries vendor Celia Ashley won’t be trading at the market because of the fee hike.

“I’m not going to pay $300 for Queenstown when I can go to Invercargill and other places and pay $50 for the same thing.”

Jan Rae-Robertson, co-owner of Queenstown’s Bella Cucina restaurant, has a stall selling fresh pasta – she sympathises with those from outlying regions.

“They shouldn’t be hit with extra costs just because they don’t come from the area,” she says. “It also leads to less choice for customers.”

John Thompson, co-owner of Frankton’s New World supermarket, isn’t worried about cut-price, out-of-town competition – but he thinks stallholders should be stumping up for a pitch.

“I believe they should be paying their fees the same as everyone else has to, otherwise they’d just be freeloading,” Thompson says.

“They can pay my charges if they want to swap them.”

Some smaller local operators have also been forced out by new food safety rules. Anyone selling processed produce now has to have it processed in registered premises like commercial kitchens.

“This is a community ven­­­ture for me and all I’m trying to do is make the market grow and go forward,” says Inch.
“But there just seems to be so many rules and regulations now, it’s ridiculous.”