HYNDBURN Council's ruling Tory group has scrapped plans to lease out Accrington's historic Market Hall to a private company.
Instead it intends to keep the hall under council control and invest more than £500,000 in it over the next two years.
But the move, announced on Tuesday, was seen by the Labour opposition and some market traders as a dramatic U-turn and questions are now being asked about how much staff time was spent on the aborted scheme.
The council announced in October 2004 that it was on the lookout for a partner to run the market, saying that it had not got the resources to invest in the building, which was built in 1869.
A total of 17 companies originally applied to take over the market on a long-term lease basis and these were whittled down to a shortlist.
Most recently, talks were being held with businesses including the Hyndburn-based Kevin Horkin group, which owns the Spex opticians chain, as well as Preston-based Faisaltex and Durham Markets.
Traders had been vehemently against the proposal since it was first announced, blasting it as a "sell-off", and they called upon Hyndburn Council to form a trust to run it instead.
The council had been due to reveal the lucky investment partner but council leader, Peter Britcliffe, announced a last-minute change of heart at a meeting with market tenants this week.
He said that councillors had decided against the bids five days ago.
The new proposals also include a complete restructuring of the market's management.
Councillor Britcliffe said: "The council has to work in the best interests of the taxpayers and we have reached the conclusion that the bids don't represent the best possible way forward for Hyndburn.
"They fall below expectations and we don't wish to go forward with them."
Market traders voted in favour of the new plans, with a few voting against or abstaining.
Ian Smith, a representative on the Markets Board, said they had faith in the council and hoped that something concrete could be done to ensure the success of the Market Hall in the future.
Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Britcliffe said: "No time or money has been wasted. The visits to other markets have given us lots of good ideas on how to run the market in the future."
Labour councillor Graham Jones, who has been an outspoken opponent of the "sell-off" scheme since it was first announced, said: "Obviously this is something we have fought long and hard for and we are really pleased that the Conservatives have done a U-turn.
"I just hope that they will listen a bit more in the future. I am also pleased for the tenants as it is what they wanted.
"The next stage is to make sure the Market Hall, along with the outside markets, are run more professionally."
Funding for the Market Hall in 2006-7 was due to be agreed at a full council meeting last night, with £15,000 being allocated in the capital programme for market redevelopment.