TRADERS on a town centre market have been hit by well above-inflation increases in their utility charges adding hundreds of pounds year to their costs.

Blackburn market stallholders have been told their electricity bills will rise by 18.8 per cent against an national average of 10.3 per cent and their water rates by 3.58 per cent compared to United Utilities average rise of 2.1 per cent.

They were informed of the increases which take effect on June 1 in a letter last week from Blackburn with Darwen Council.

Many are angry at the steep rise with restaurant and cafe owners hardest-hit.

The market is losing stalls with two more vacated in recent weeks while The Spuds n Puds Sarsaparilla stall is now only selling crisps, biscuits and poppies until owner Alan Taylor dismantles it this week.

This means that more than one-third of Blackburn Market’s 126 stalls are empty, many on an aisle near the main entrance.

Danny Moffett, owner of Butler’s family restaurant, said: “It’s going to make a big difference to me. It will add more than £100 a month to my bills.

“We use a lot of both electricity and water. I’m not very happy at this very large increase.

“It’s not as though we can switch to an alternative supplier.”

Michael Walsh, co-owner of Spindle’s Diner, said: “With the high rents here this rise is disgusting. If we have a quiet period we are going to have to cut somewhere else.”

Malcolm Marsden of Whittakers Butchers said: “That’s the way it is. They have to pass the rises on.”

One stallholder who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s another kick in the teeth.”

Cllr John Slater, leader of the council’s Conservative group, said: “This is the last thing traders need.”

Martin Kelly, the council’s director of growth, said: “The increases in electricity charges are due to costs going up nationally. A small part of the increase is due to the refocused national Climate Change Levy.

“Although the price really isn’t ideal, it works out at just over a penny per unit of energy. Traders benefit from the council’s bulk buying power as a major energy user and this allows us to negotiate better rates.

“We are keen to work with all of our traders to look at ways they can reduce their energy bills. We are writing to traders to provide an explanation for the increases.”