Lawyers claim council is using Covid-19 restrictions as a pretext
Picture: Ravenscourt Park Farmers' Market
Hammersmith and Fulham Council (H&F) has served an injunction against RMS Markets the organiser of the farmers’ markets that take place in Ravenscourt Park and Bishops Park.
The injunction was served without notice on Friday 30 April and legal representatives of RMS Markets have signalled their intention to get it set aside on the basis that the Council is using Covid-19 as a pretext for closing these markets while allowing others in the borough to continue.
Ross Spurrier of RMS Markets was informed in March that the events would be allowed to resume on 12 April in line with the relaxing of government restrictions.
However, about a week prior to restarting the markets, he was e-mailed by the Council and informed that it had changed its mind and that he and other concession-holders would no longer be allowed to open, owing to the Council’s concerns about increased footfall in the parks and its desire to prioritise sports usage of the parks.
This was then followed by the injunction which aimed to prevent the markets proceeding in defiance of the Council’s ban.
Mr Spurrier said, “Given that non-essential shops are now open, pubs and restaurants can serve outside, hairdressers, gyms and beauty salons are all open and infection rates continue to fall throughout London, we have asked what this supposed ‘public health advice’ is. We have seen none, and from what the Council has disclosed to us there was no such evidence presented during the meeting in April when it decided to change its mind and keep our markets closed.
“The Council is promoting a non-ticketed, outdoor and open-to-all event, ‘The Green Meet’, in Fulham Palace, adjacent to Bishop’s Park on 2 May, which will include ‘garden tours, talks by experts, children’s activities, cookery demonstrations, a green market and live music’. The Council have sited ‘space’ as a factor for deciding to close our markets. But Fulham Palace is 5.2 hectares, while Bishop’s Park is 10.5 hectares. I simply don’t understand their reasoning.”
A petition to re-open the markets received over 1,300 signatures and Mr Spurrier says local people and businesses have donated generously to a legal fighting fund. A JustGiving crowdfunding page raised its target of £5,000.
He is challenging the Council with the help of his barristers Robert Griffiths QC and Nicola Strachan of 6 Pump Court, and through his law firm Spencer West, Mr Spurrier.
Mr Griffiths, a consumer champion who has successfully taken on similar cases against Camden Council and other local authorities, said, “This is an example of a council trying to get, through the back door, what it couldn't get through the front door. It is action taken under the illegitimate cover of Covid-19 regulations to achieve an otherwise unlawful purpose.
“There is no justification, in either public or private law, for what this Council is seeking to do. It is acting unlawfully, unreasonably, disproportionately and in breach of contract.”
Paolo Caldato, Commercial Dispute Resolution Partner at Spencer West, added, “It has become clear that London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council has acted without any regard to the Coronavirus No.3 Regulations. The Council has produced no real evidence that it acted on the basis of any such public health advice, or indeed any substantial evidence that the markets cause a material increase in footfall in the parks, nor that such an increase poses any risk.
“Other concession holders have been permitted to continue to operate in the parks, despite the Council alleging that it has suspended all such activities. We also have evidence that the Council has substantially suspended all sports usage of the parks during the hours of operation of the markets, so it is not clear exactly how sports are being prioritised.”
Mr Caldato added that his firm believes that the true motive for the Council’s conduct is its intention to put out the concessions to tender and that they are using supposed concerns about coronavirus as a convenient smoke-screen.”
H&F Council have been asked for a comment.
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May 3, 2021