Berwick Street Market
Berwick Street Market

Labour Councillors have set out their alternative approach to securing the future of Westminster’s street markets as part of the City Council’s recent consultation. It is feared that the consultation will ultimately lead to increased charges to traders with little corresponding improvement.

Labour Councillors believe Westminster’s street markets should support a wide variety of local businesses in well maintained public spaces at the heart of their communities.  Any strategy should support street markets that provide access to affordable, healthy and high quality food and goods in an environmentally responsible way. Labour is of the view that street markets are a tool for attracting custom to our high streets and supporting much needed regeneration. We strongly endorse an approach that’s supports entrepreneurship, innovation and support for new traders including opportunities for our residents.

Shadow Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Education Cllr Tim Roca said:

It is clear that some of our markets are already successful economic, social and cultural institutions as the recent furore over Berwick street market proves. However, in that instance the Council’s actions actively contributed to the market’s decline – botched redevelopment site next door; adjacent streets closed for roadworks for long periods; no advertising or marketing etc.

 Simply put the Council’s costs need to have some relation to the value of the service provided to traders. There needs to be transparency about costs not just going forwards but also about the deficit that they say already exists. Such transparency and genuine dialogue with traders and importantly with communities, will build confidence and create a shared vision for the sort of vibrant street markets we all want to see.

Labour Group Submission – Consultation Westminster Street Markets

The Consultation:

In principle we welcome the attempt to consult widely before developing a strategy and broadly welcome the main themes. However, we are concerned that the consultation itself may not be as thorough as it could be because:

  • it is not clear when ward councillors with their specific local knowledge will be engaged;
  • it is not clear in view of the wider importance to communities whether Neighbourhood Forums will be consulted;
  • there are concerns from some traders that a substantial part of the consultation period fell during the summer holidays potentially causing lower response rates;
  • there is a concern about transparency over financial figures cited by the Council in terms of costs.

Overall:

We believe any strategy should aim to support diverse, vibrant street markets that have a positive economic, social and cultural impact. We need to be clear who our markets are for in view of our longstanding communities, passing trade and the changing demography of our City. With the history and local connections of Westminster’s street markets being so varied, it follows that there are different needs for each one and its given area.

However, we agree that street markets should in general support a variety of local businesses in distinctive and well maintained public spaces. We want markets to provide access to affordable, healthy and high quality food and commodities in an environmentally responsible way. We believe street markets are a tool for attracting custom to our high streets and supporting wider regeneration. We strongly endorse an approach that’s supports entrepreneurship, innovation and support for new traders including opportunities for our residents.

It is clear that some of our markets are already successful economic, social and cultural institutions as the recent furore over Berwick street market proves. However, in that instance the Council’s actions actively contributed to the market’s decline – botched redevelopment site next door; adjacent streets closed for roadworks for long periods; no advertising or marketing etc.

We are concerned about the support or lack of in many cases of facilities for traders such as storage, parking, washing, and a general perception of a decline in service from the Council. The Council has previously admitted that it has no real market management expertise so it needs to do more than simply take the money and offer no practical or useful support to traders in return.

Simply put the Council’s costs need to have some relation to the value of the service provided to traders. There needs to be transparency about such costs not just going forwards but also about the deficit that it is asserted already exists. Such transparency and genuine dialogue with traders and importantly with communities, will build confidence and create a shared vision.

COMMUNITIES AND REGENERATION

We agree with the research done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that demonstrates that:

  • markets are important sites of social interaction for all groups in the community, but most significantly for older people, especially women;
  • markets also represent important social spaces for mothers with young children, young people, and families with children, particularly at weekends;
  • Markets have a significant social inclusion role, as places to linger, particularly for older people and young mothers;
  • The social life of traders plays a significant role in creating a vibrant atmosphere in markets, and in forging social bonds and links in the trading community as well as with shoppers.

Any strategy should support the objectives and priorities of the Council’s wider plans and be linked to local neighbourhood plans as appropriate. It is especially important the strategy links to the Council’s own regeneration plans and policies.

PRICING

As we have said the Council’s costs need to have some relation to the value of the service provided to traders. The commercial context of a given market needs to be taken into account and we would want to know more clearly how neighbouring and other authorities manage such charges. Are there different and innovative schemes in use that might better encourage the street markets we want to support? Without answers to these questions and the points regarding transparency, we cannot yet see a reason for increased costs for traders. If such a position were to be supported then not only must there be those answers but also a demonstrable link to improved service from the Council.

START-UPS AND ENTREPENEURS

We support a package for start-ups including a rent concession scheme, assistance with business planning; financial management; product development; marketing, digital etc. Any package has to provide real support and add real value. We understand that research demonstrates that street markets can play a positive role in launching business start-ups particularly for black and minority ethnic entrepreneurs.

GOVERNANCE

We would like to see detail as to how the Council will engage with traders regularly and have a genuine dialogue with them and local communities about markets. We are concerned that the Council is not highly regarded by traders. In some street markets the relationship is better than others, but overall the historic relationship appears to have been poor.

The Council needs to be clear on its view of the COW Act 1999 and whether this or other legislation is an obstacle to effective management of our markets, and whether we believe we need to campaign for greater powers. If so this should be contingent on a requirement to work in partnership with market trader organisations and communities.

MEASURING SUCCESS

The Council doesn’t seem to be setting itself any quantifiable objectives. How will we know whether the review has been successful? More stallholders? More customers? Higher turnover? Higher stallholder or shopper satisfaction?

Conclusion

There is a concern from some that the council is deliberately looking to use the review process and its rent policy to change the fundamental nature of our markets, and that this is process is driven by money. Clearly some of this is about trying to run with the grain of trends elsewhere but put bluntly it seems in some cases we need to avoid falling into the trap of having similar markets across our city that cater only for one group. Change needs to be done sensitively with the support of both traders and local residents and without losing what makes our markets relevant locally.

 

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