ANGRY Blackburn market traders are fighting a “ridiculous” backdated hike in council service charges which could land stallholders with bills for hundreds of pounds in the New Year.

They fear that the rise could force some traders out of business.

Market manager Keith Holden informed traders that the annual cost for food and non- food stalls would rise by £2.90 per square foot from £17 to £19.90.

Cafes and catering stalls would see an increase of £2.40 per square foot from £19.50 to £21.90.

Most stalls have been paying the lower estimated cost monthly on top of rents ranging from £500 a month to more than £2,000.

The extra charge will be backdated for last year and collected next month.

This means stalls of the average 250 square foot size paying £725 and cafe/catering stalls £600 as the higher service charge kicks in.

Larger traders will have to pay considerably more.

Traders have written to the borough threatening to withhold direct debit rents unless the rise is cut and the backdating waived.

They have also complained of “inadequate” service, maintenance and cleanliness”.

Their letter said that the rises of 17 per cent for food and non-food stalls and 12.3 per cent for cafe/catering stalls could not be “justified with any degree of sanity” when inflation in October was 2.7 per cent and asks how the original estimate was so far out. It goes on: “This could be the final straw for many traders. The general consensus is that this is a totally unreasonable increase and backdate.

“The feeling is that everyone should cancel their direct debits.”

Daniel Moffett, of Butlers Family Restaurant which has been disrupted by tiles falling from the Mall frontage and his electric door on the Church Street failing, said: “I think it’s ridiculous.”

Malcolm Marsden of Whitaker’s Butchers said: “It’s totally wrong. We are not receiving a proper service.”

But Coun Dave Harling said that the new charges are far from set in stone.

He explained: “The figures have yet to be finalised and we are continuing to talk to traders about the issues they have raised.

“We could only make a judgement on the actual service charge after a year of trading.

“I know that all businesses are finding it difficult so I am looking at everything again before taking a final decision.”