HEREFORDSHIRE Council fears having to pay out millions of pounds in compensation to farmers and auctioneers if it fails to build a new Hereford cattle market.

For the first time, the council has revealed the legal advice which it says makes the cattle market a must have, advice based on a 19th century House of Lords ruling that links the right to hold a market to the obligation to provide one.

In the Hereford Times last week, Hereford MP Paul Keetch raised the stakes over the market bid by calling for a referendum on whether the £10 million of public money set to be spent on the project should be invested in “a subsidy for the livestock industry” or something else – like Hereford United.

Among the responses received by the paper was a suggestion that some, if not all, of the money should go towards repairs, renovations and re-building the county’s schools.

Herefordshire Council leader Councillor Roger Phillips has ruled out any such referendum, saying the cost alone made it impractical.

But that cost, said Coun Phillips, paled against the likelihood of the council paying “millions” in compensation to farmers and auctioneers if a market was not provided.

Never before made public, the council’s legal advice over the market comes in three stages: ● The original Elizabethan Royal Charter grants the right of the citizens of Hereford to hold charter markets – essentially the Buttermarket, the Farmers’ Market and the cattle market – within the boundaries of the old city walls.

● Subsequent acts in 1835 and 2003 modify the boundaries within which a market may be set, not the city’s conferred right to have one.

● According to a 19th century Lords ruling known as the Islington market case, the conferred right to hold a charter market comes with a corresponding obligation to provide one – the issue that the council fears could be tested in court over compensation claims.

The council says it cannot settle such an issue in advance, because it cannot accurately assess the extent of such claims where the original charter effectively extends a market to anyone wishing to buy and sell.

Mr Keetch is not convinced and maintained his call for a referendum, saying the council could have sorted out the obligation issue during the passage of the 2003 act through Parliament.

“I can say that Parliament is not convinced of the absolute need for a market either. Even if the compensation argument is accepted, why can’t an already established market like Ross-on-Wye be made Hereford’s market as well,” he said.

Hereford’s new market, proposed for a 48-acre site off Roman Road, is still to come before planners. Much depends on a report from the Environment Agency about any flood threat the site faces.

The council is increasingly confident it can complete the project for less than the £10 million it thought it needed earlier this year.