HEREFORD Buttermarket could be back in the hands of its traders by the end of the year – if a bid to take over the High Town marketplace is successful.

Steve Dixon, the chairman of the Buttermarket Independent Traders Association, is heading a group of four traders, backed by local businessmen, that has expressed its interest in taking over the market as a community enterprise.

He said: “We know the market, we know the job.

“A private investor has to think about profit, about shareholders. We would invest profit back into the community.”

Herefordshire County Council, who own the site, this week opened up the takeover process, inviting bids for the listed Victorian indoor market.

With a multi-million refurbishment on hold – work that was estimated at costing between £3million to £5million – council decisions over the market’s future have reached a critical point.

Under Mr Dixon’s plans, a community interest company would be created; a not-for-profit entity fronted by traders and experienced businessmen that would have access to charitable funding and grants for the repair work that are unavailable to councils.

It would take a long-term lease, expected to be 25-plus years, on the market, similar to the arrangement with Hereford United.

In exchange for taking on liability for the site, and the cost of repairs, the traders would be able to cut down what is currently £250,000 in annual rent payments.

“If it can work, I’m fully behind it,” said Hereford mayor Len Tawn, who also owns a stall in the market.

“It needs something, the Buttermarket has been under-supported for years.”

Over the past five years partnerships with architecture firms and Hereford City Council have been suggested and dismissed, with disparities over budgets and visions for the site preventing any large-scale refurbishment taking place.

And Patricia Morgan, the council’s cabinet member for corporate services, has warned that there is potential for “a freehold disposal of the site if the right circumstances are presented”.

There is a city charter that protects the site as a market, however Mr Dixon is concerned that if it were to be handed over to a private investor, any long-term closure for repair work could kill off the livelihoods of the 50-plus traders at the site.