Research by the New Economics Foundation for the Friends of Queens Market - the East London market featured in the documentary Wal-Mart, the high cost of a low price - presents a microcosm of the dangers of basing regeneration policy on supermarket expansion, from the real employment impact of supermarkets to the threat to consumer choice. The report analyses the threat that the development planned for the site the market now stands on poses to the local economy and community in Newham, and the high cost of the loss of traditional street markets for communities across the UK.
In total, Queens Market generates over£13m for the local economy with£9m spent on food. It delivers substantial economic value to the local economy. Customers spend an average of£34 when they visit the market,£25 of which is spent on food. This spending is worth more than£11.5m to the local economy each year. Customers also spend an estimated£1.8m at shops close to the market.
In addition, the report finds that not only are fresh fruit and vegetables on average half the price of supermarkets, four out of five visitors to the market cited choice as their main reason for shopping there:
80 per cent of customers at the market said that they used the market for the exceptional choice of goods available - the market sold goods that were not available elsewhere undermining the assertion of supermarkets that they can provide consumers with what they want. More than two-thirds were also attracted by the market's atmosphere.
A 'shopping basket' exercise found that items bought at the market were on average 53 per cent cheaper than at a local ASDA Wal-Mart supermarket. The market also offers particular benefits to low-income customers not available at supermarkets - they can use informal bargaining and haggling to achieve substantial discounts. This process reaches a climax at the end of the market day when produce is reduced to clear or given away free rather than left to waste.
The report also finds that the Market provides twice as many jobs per square foot of retail as supermarkets, and that the combination of low overheads and flexible business rates mean that the market serves as nursery in which a diverse range of enterprises can start, flourish and grow;
The market delivers twice as many jobs per square metre as a food superstore. Queens Market provides significant employment providing 581 jobs, and 308 people employed at the market live in the immediate local area. Market jobs are also more varied than those at a food superstore, involving a richer skill set and greater opportunities to start a business and to acquire business knowledge.
The market provides a space in which entrepreneurs are encouraged, nurtured and supported. 26 per cent of traders had begun trading at the market over the last five years, but over half had been trading for more than ten. Queens Market is particularly effective at supporting independent small businesses at a time of increasing concern about the collapse of independent business and the increasing dominance of the high street by chain stores and supermarkets. Ninety-nine per cent of the businesses at the market are independent traders.
QueensMarket supports a large number of black and minority ethnic (BME) entrepreneurs who face particular barriers when starting businesses. Seven out of ten businesses surveyed at the market were owned by BME traders. The role of markets in providing suitable business space is underlined by research from the London Development Agency which found that start-up and growth of BME businesses are disproportionately disadvantaged by lack of access to suitable business premises.
The market structure provides space for an extraordinary range and variety of businesses, some 35 different kinds of businesses, from sole traders to businesses employing 25 staff. Eighty one per cent of traders surveyed cited flexibility and 72 per cent cited reasonable rents as their reasons for trading at the market.
Queens Market is providing a vital source of accessible, affordable and good quality food in an area, designated as a 'food desert', that is, it provides poor access to fresh and affordable food. Newham residents spend 1.5 times more of their disposable income on food than the national average and less on healthy food options like fruit and vegetables. Half the wards in Newham have been designated as food deserts.
'Our research shows that markets provide vital revenue for local economies around the UK ranging from£0.5 to£13m a year. Markets also support coral-like clusters of tiny businesses that are finely attuned to the local community and business environment in a way that no large format supermarket can ever be. The irony is that because the value of markets has not been quantified until now, planning decisions are being taken around the country which are undermining the small enterprises that can prevent us becoming a nation of clone towns.' says Guy Rubin, Senior researcher at NEF.
Despite the overwhelming contribution that Queens Market is making to the local economy and community - a number of threats to a thriving Queens Market arise from the plans put forward by Newham Council and property developers St Modwens. These can be summarised as follows:
A reduction in the estimated£13m of positive local economic impacts and money flows in the local economy.
The introduction of clone town chains and multiples at the expense of independent retail.
Increased barriers to entry for new entrepreneurs as a result of the imposition of higher costs, such as service charges for market traders.
A reduction in the variety and range of business types and sizes.
A loss in the range and quality of employment for local residents.
Fewer opportunities for business growth and expansion for existing traders as a result of the availability of shop units in the new redevelopment.
Design changes in the new market affecting visitor numbers and the quality of the unique and rich shopping experience
Less, affordable fresh food available in an areas designated as a food desert
A reduction in the exceptional range of ethnic food and other goods available at the market.
'QueensMarket is also a model of specialist shopping because it caters to a majority multi-ethnic population, principally Asian but also African and Afro-Caribbean. The market experience is one of abundance where traders returning from London's surviving wholesalers create a theatre of food: mountains of crisp green methi,, bundles of yard-long beans, twiggy longan fruit, cow-heel, Halal meat, salt-fish, fresh dates on the twig, black Kentish cherries, calaloo (now locally grown) and pale green cho-cho. It provides choice and value for local people that Asda, or any other large supermarket never will', says Claire Peasnall, of campaign group the Friends of Queens Market.
There is a legacy of poor investment and management by Newham LBC that has contributed to a shopping environment in need of urgent improvement. However, as NEF's report shows, current development plans threaten to impoverish not revitalise the local economy and community.