For the past two decades, the city’s few remaining street traders have been at war with successive councils keen on clearing our streets of the all evidence of independent trading in the heart of the city centre.
Since 2004, street traders have been banned from Church Street – but the Council, and Geraud, conveniently turns its back on the ‘safety concerns’ that saw the street traders banished into the side streets when it sets up the stalls of the lucrative seasonal markets, such as the continental and Christmas markets, on Church Street.
“We and have to trade here throughout the year, only to see Geraud set up pitches in the busiest time of the year, on the best streets,” street trader Brian Gould tells SevenStreets, adding that the number of Liverpool street traders has halved in recent years.
Gould describes the Council’s decision to allow the Christmas Market into Church Street as a type of ethnic cleansing.
“Some of Liverpool’s street trading families have been serving the people of the city for over a hundred years,” he says, “and the council went to court to clear Church Street of our stalls, only to replace them with traders who pay Geraud thousands for pitches on the same stretch.”
“We’re treated like second class citizens,” says fruit and veg seller John Donohue on Whitechapel: “I’ve had to remortgage my house to fund all the legal support we needed to fight our corner when we successfully challenged the council. It’s been incredibly stressful. We’ve all got families to support, and we’re just trying to make a living.”
The council’s strategy, says an anonymous trader in St John’s indoor market, has always been to ‘divide and conquer’ – separating out the plight of the market and the street trader. But, in the past ten years, both have complained that they’ve suffered at the hands of Geraud: either directly or indirectly.
For Councillor Malcolm Kennedy, Liverpool council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and transport (whose patch also includes the city’s markets) the two traders’ needs are not connected. “I only deal with Geraud and markets, not street traders,” he says, when we try to push him on the obvious hypocrisy of Geraud Markets being allowed to trade on streets off limits to our own street traders.
When SevenStreets suggests that Geraud’s been allowed to cash in on Christmas, while our city’s own traders (in the streets and in St Johns) have been ignored, pushed to the fringes of the city, and look on while paella-sellers and bratwurst hawkers make an embarrassment of our streets, Councillor Kennedy is unequivocal:
“I don’t believe in competition,” he says. “I believe we made the right decision partnering with Geraud.”
But, we ask – isn’t it because of this exclusive arrangement that the city’s markets offer is at an all time low?
An interesting stance for someone charged with regeneration, we think. Especially in the light of recent stories coming from Brixton Market, another Geraud-run market, where stallholders’ rent increased by 22 per cent, causing thousands of residents to back a campaign to save an independent shop unable to afford the price hike.
An interesting stance, too, for someone charged with regeneration when St John’s indoor market has never looked more in need of direct action. Fortunately, he was chattier in The Post last week, confirming that plans are underway for a major refurb of St Johns.
Many of the city’s councillors have openly criticised Geraud – “Geraud want the monopoly but have not put in any investment. If there’s no major investment in Liverpool markets why are we paying not insignificant management fees to Geraud?” Councillor Steve Radford has said, while Cllr Steve Munby has said “Liverpool’s markets are an embarrassment and a disgrace – what have they done for the city?”
Joe Anderson has previously talked about tarting up the upper floors of the mall – but, we think, that would have been the retail equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Liverpool is a mercantile city. Markets are in our blood. So we should be ashamed of the way we’ve treated our independent traders over the past decade. We should be ashamed that a few have done very well out of this very cosy relationship (the city taking full advantage of market rights bestowed on it back in 1207, and syphoning off 20% of Geraud’s profits), while Manchester’s Christmas market brings in millions to the city’s coffers, and the city’s street food market is vibrant and forward thinking. A bit like the city it serves.
And we should be ashamed that we pushed our last remaining street traders to the edge of the city, and many more to insolvency. The Heritage Market, another popular attraction, is still wrangling with the council, after repeated attempts to find a new home meet with 11th hour planning objections, while Geraud were quick to set up something surprisingly similar, in Edge Lane.
But now we have an opportunity, just like many cities before us – Rotterdam, Vancouver, Barcelona, Copenhagen – to turn this around, to make our markets a real tourist attraction, and to bring new life back to an old trading city.
We’ve got the producers, we’ve got the independents, and we love to shop.
Whatever the announcement, in a month’s time, will be – we’re hopeful that, after a decade’s worth of dithering, the city will finally wake up and see the huge economic, cultural and tourist potential we’re missing out on under Geraud’s sorry stewardship.