A HAMPSHIRE market has collapsed – just three months after it was relaunched following a two-year shutdown.

Stallholders have deserted Totton’s Wednesday market after seeing a “massive” reduction in the number of customers over the past few weeks.

This week’s market was cancelled, sparking an emergency debate at a meeting of the town council.

Members agreed that the authority should explore the possibility of staging a Christmas market, plus events with a French or German theme, followed by a weekly farmers market selling local produce.

The market used to be held in a car park behind the civic centre but folded through lack of support from shoppers and stallholders.

In August it moved to a new site at the junction of Water Lane and Salisbury Road and was relaunched in a blaze of publicity.

Town clerk Derek Biggs said: “There was a real rush of people in the early days but we suddenly saw a massive reduction in the number of customers.

“Several traders said they were paying more in rent than they were getting in takings.

“We’ve spoken to the market operator.

He says he could get us a couple of stallholders but the rest are not willing to attend.”

Mr Biggs said several factors were to blame, including competition from discount shops and the recent spate of bad weather on market days.

Councillors called for the event to be held on Saturdays but were warned that stallholders were unlikely to quit highly lucrative pitches elsewhere.

Councillor David Harrison said: “I’m sincerely sorry that the market has collapsed in the way that it has.

“It really needs to go for quality. You can’t compete with shops that offer massive discounts.”

Cllr Harrison launched another attack on plans by New Forest District Council to levy charges in car parks that are still free, including four sites in Totton.

He said: “We must at all costs retain free parking. Without that there’s zero chance of the market ever being a success.”

After the meeting Mr Biggs said the town council was carrying out a survey of public opinion to discover what type of market people wanted to see in Totton.

“If we can give the public what they really want, it will work,” he said.