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Far more than a source of cheap spuds, markets bring areas to life so it's up to councils to protect them, says Mar...
Far more than a source of cheap spuds, markets bring areas to life so it's up to councils to protect them, says Mark Smulian

Markets tick a lot of boxes for councils. They promote health by providing cheap and fresh food, they increase tourism by attracting visitors, and they help sustainability by supporting town centre retailing and local producers.

They can also add a somewhat indefinable 'vibrancy' - after all, shouts of 'all this lot for a quid, robbing myself I am, lady' do more to add local colour than signs boasting 'every little helps'.

But markets are under two threats, one predictable, the other less so.

The predictable threat is from the supermarkets, which offer a consistent quality that market stalls usually cannot, and have the same range of goods under one roof, all day every day and with convenient parking.

The less predictable threat is the internet. Many markets include sections that sell antiques, memorabilia, crafts, books and music.

It is those retailers who turn markets from day-to-day shopping destinations into general attractions, but they can find richer pickings for less hassle on the internet.

Markets can pose problems for councils, although not insurmountable ones. They need nearby parking for traders and customers, there is a fair amount of refuse generated and cleansing is needed at the end of trading.

But most councils with markets want to actively support them. Here are examples of how councils are giving them a helping hand:

1 Petticoat Lane, Tower Hamlets LBC

Tower Hamlets operates the world-famous Petticoat Lane Sunday market, which is best known for clothes but also has music, book and craft stalls.

There are 10 other markets in the borough, which a council spokeswoman says are 'at the heart of our communities and help a large number of small businesses to thrive'.

Tower Hamlets has launched a publicity campaign to make sure tourists keep coming to Petticoat Lane. This includes local radio advertisements and articles in free magazines given to hotel guests. It is considering advertising on hotels' internal television channels.

Traders are attracted through plasma screen advertisements in council one-stop shops, housing offices and parking shops.

Another initiative under consideration is guided tours of Petticoat Lane and the nearby Brick Lane general market during which visitors can learn about local history as they shop.

Each market is looked after by a supervisor who seeks out new traders, follows up on enquiries and offers induction training.

'The service has gone out of its way to become more accessible and supportive,' the spokeswoman says.

'Petticoat Lane's supervisor has, for example, arranged for a cash dispenser on the market and we have acted upon the traders' other requests for facilities, such as toilets.'

Market officers have also helped devise a scheme for gates to be installed to prevent cars driving through during market hours.

Tower Hamlets has invested some£800,000 of planning gain money in the environmental development of the market and its associated small businesses and shops.

2 Leicester Market, Leicester City Council

Leicester boasts Europe's largest covered market and it's been on the same city centre site for over 700 years.

With the adjacent indoor market, there can be 400 stalls employing 1,000 people on busy days.

The market has benefited in recent decades from Leicester's large communities of Asian origin, says market manager Faizal Osman.

'Many people in Leicester have come from countries where big markets are common, so they like to come here to shop,' he says.

'The market is important to the city because it creates employment, and allows people to enter business with very low start-up costs.'

But all is not well. Although all the stalls are taken on Saturdays, other days are less busy and trade has been static for the past year, Mr Osman says.

'Shopping here is cheap and people like that, but there is competition from supermarkets, and even more from e-commerce,' he says.

He sought to get antique and memorabilia traders who were under pressure from

e-competitors to trade online as well as using the market, but this proved a double-edged sword when some went online full-time.

Most of the market is devoted to food, which is less affected by the internet. However, traders are catching up with other technologies.

Mr Osman says: 'More retailers now take credit cards. They are also offering home delivery, after all no one wants to carry around five bags of potatoes.'

The council has a£150,000 budget for market cleansing. It has 10 cleaners, a wagon that continuously circulates to collect rubbish and a twice-yearly steam cleaning of the floors.

3 Ware Market, East Hertfordshire DC

On a break from the crusades, Richard the Lionheart granted Ware a royal charter on 23 July 1191 allowing it to hold a market on a Tuesday.

This has proved a mixed blessing to the council, which hopes to organise an annual charter day celebration from next year, but which is unable to move the market from a slack trading day without a complex legal process.

However, it can move its site. Ware is a long town with a station at one end and the market at the other.

Moving it nearer to the station is part of the council's planned regeneration, says economic development manager Paul Pullin.

'We have a 17,000 population and many people commute, so we want to change the trading hours so that in summer the market is still open when people get home,' he says.

East Hertfordshire wants to expand the range of stalls, but has come up against the internet problem, says Mr Pullin.

He explains: 'The food and household goods stalls do well but you need a critical mass for a successful market and Ware suffers from internet shopping having cut into the antiques and specialist goods trade.'

Council leader Tony Wilson (Con) says: 'We are a market town and having a market is part of the town's character. It could have been left to die but we took steps to prevent that.'

4 Barnstaple Pannier Market, North Devon DC

This market dates back to Saxon times and moved into its present building in 1855 after the outdoor market was closed following a cholera epidemic.

There are 56 stalls open six days a week, with Friday the busiest day.

Market manager Simon Curry says: 'Times have changed in the markets game in the last five or six years with the cheap shops and eBay coming along.'

Apart from local fresh produce the market has historically attracted traders from as far as Plymouth and Gloucester who sell leather, clothes and speciality goods of various kinds, and this part of the market has suffered from the internet.

Mr Curry says: 'It is a constant battle to keep traders here even though we only charge£1 a foot while other markets are£4-5.'

These cheap prices are one way in which the council has tried to protect the market.

5 Penrith markets, Eden DC

Anne Meston is responsible for town centre and farmers' markets in Penrith which, along with nearby Appleby, has had a market charter since 1222. There are three other farmers' markets around the district and another town market at Kirkby Stephen.

'People apply to have stalls, and there are more applicants than stalls available,' Ms Meston says.

'The market adds to the vitality of the town. We work closely with tourism colleagues and advertise the markets in the town guides as it is an economic development issue.'

This tourist influx brings in a clientele that can have different priorities to local customers, but as visitors are a key part of the local economy the markets aim to please them.

Ms Meston says: 'We want to go down the quality route and encourage better quality food, especially organics. There is a higher standard now and more Fairtrade goods, we don't want something cheap and cheerful.'

National Association of British Market Authorities

National Market Traders Federation

National Association of Farmers Markets

London Farmers Markets

Petticoat Lane





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