Queen of the High Street, Mary Portas knows about retail. She probably knows more than Cllr Malcolm Kennedy (but don’t tell him that). So when Portas was invited, by the Government, to present a thorough, independent review on the future of our troubled retail landscape, Portas was unequivocal in her response: Make markets the heart of a regenerated high street.
So why is Liverpool intent on pushing ours to the edges?
Explaining the decisions behind her review (on www.maryportas.com), Portas points out how markets are essential in not only reversing our high street’s fortunes, but in encouraging young entrepreneurs into business, and in helping traditional retail attract a bigger crowd. Obvious, really.
“If you create a social activity, then business will flourish off the back of it, reviving the local area while offering young businesses and entrepreneurs a platform on which to promote and sell,” she says.
Portas points to her local, Broadway Market, as the perfect example of regeneration in action.
“It achieves an impressive footfall of more than 21,000 people each Saturday,” she says. “I remember Broadway Market in 2000, when it was three lonely stalls with tumbleweed blowing down the street. Seeing it today, I feel that it sums up what I envisaged when I talked about the regenerative power of street markets in my Portas Review for the Government. In this country we have no shortage of inspirational entrepreneurial talent.”
In Liverpool we’re sort of embarrassed by how much of it we have. It’s criminal that they’ve no route to market.
This back-to-basics approach – bringing market stalls run by entrepreneurial traders into the heart of any action plan – sits directly at odds with our own Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Malcolm Kennedy’s plans.
He’s intent on moving Great Homer Street’s market to the outer limits of Project Jennifer, well away from Sainsburys and the chain stores they’re hoping to attract, and on squeezing the available space down so drastically that traders fear 40 pitches will be lost. And as for growth? That’s not on the agenda.
Who do you think is right?
“On a market stall people can try out their ideas and get their business booming without too much cost. It’s great for our town centres too, bringing in fresh ideas and products, and preserving our nation’s cultural heritage,” Portas says.
Meanwhile, the traders in Great Homer Street have been told that, if they don’t move – from the street they’ve helped keep alive – in May they will have their licences removed and will be trading illegally. Meanwhile, the Portas review recommends relaxing licensing rules for market stalls to make it easier for people to set up stands.
So, while the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills rushes to launch pilot schemes to encourage the creation of street markets across the country, Liverpool is ejecting its longest-standing market to the edge of the new Project Jennifer scheme.
Could Liverpool be more out of step with current retail thinking?
“High Streets must be ready to experiment, try new things, take risks and become destinations again. They need to be spaces and places that people want to be in,” Portas says. “High Streets of the future must be a hub of the community that local people are proud of and want to protect.”
Originally, traders were promised 300 stalls at the heart of the scheme. Last May Paul Batho, projects director at St Modwen, said “The provision of a new market facility in a prominent location has always been and remains a fundamental part of our vision for the rejuvenation of Great Homer Street. [We aim to] develop plans for a first rate, modern facility situated in the heart of the new scheme and forming an integral part of the retail offer.”
Fast forward to August last year, and traders were told there was now only space for 45 indoor and 27 outdoor (traders’ pitches, outdoor are typically twice the size of indoor) at the heart of the scheme. Currently, the market has 80 indoor and 95 outdoor stalls (many of which are three times the size of the indoor ones).
Naturally, the traders objected. If they’d have accepted it, scores of traders would have lost their pitches, their jobs, their families’ livelihoods. Some of these families have been trading here for 40 years. They’ve kept the community glued together.
On 29 August, traders were presented with three possible futures, at a Project Jennifer Stakeholders Group.
1) The whole market moves in May 2014 to Dryden Street and then back to the (reduced) new market facility in late 2016
2) The outdoor market moves to the east side of GHS in May 2014 and then the whole market moves to Dryden Street in early 2016 and back to the new facility in late 2016
3) A variation on either of the first two options where the market stays in Dryden Street and doesn’t move back to a new facility.
“Cllr Kennedy was keen to stress that nothing would be decided behind closed doors and that the shopkeepers would be included in the debate” – the minutes of the meeting noted. Yet, somewhere between the scheme getting the go ahead in 2008, and September 2013, the decision to reduce the market was made, without any consultation with Great Homer Street’s traders.
Traders, on both sides of the street, accept that their future probably lies down the road. Many are looking forward to the move, seeing it as a chance for Great Homer Street to, finally, have a fresh start – and to come together again.
But, with work not starting on the east side (the outdoor pitches) until late 2015/early 16, ‘east side’ traders want to stay where they are for as long as possible. Visit on a Saturday and you can understand why. This place just works. While all around has crumbled and withered, the market is still, defiantly, alive. Yes, it’s ugly: but that’s what years of under-investment at the hands of Geraud and the Council does to you.
They’ve been refused.
Traders want assurances that their new market location will have enough space for all of them (including those who trade from the shop units). Plans seen by SevenStreets show that this may not be the case. The traders fear they won’t have enough room to park their vans, the pitches have been reduced in size (often by a third), and – because the new location is slap-bang in the heart of a new residential development – they’ve been told they can’t bring their vans on site until 8am, when most traders set up by 6, ready for the first punters to arrive at 8.
And, of this £150 million development, how much do you think is being spent on the new market? 40%? 25%? 10%?
Try less than 1%. In contrast, Sheffield’s just invested £18million in its gleaming new Moor Market (pic r)
This isn’t a story about Great Homer Street market. It’s a story about vision. About how, if we’re not careful, we’ll sell our soul – and the chance for real, long-term regeneration – for the small price of an out of town supermarket. Take a look at the Edge Lane development, see how well that worked out. This is retail thinking circa 1980.
Liverpool’s elected officers need to straighten their backs and fight for what is right and what is hard; not settle for the easy and the compromise. They need to look around, to see what’s happening in other, more enlightened towns and cities.
They need to read the Portas review; and they need to believe that the future of markets is the future for our city.
It’s where we came from.
SevenStreets asked for an interview with Cllr Malcolm Kennedy, to allow a full right of reply. He refused. Instead, we got some email answers. The Great Homer Street Committee’s spokesperson, Billy Darwin, responds below.
Why, exactly, has the market’s promised ‘300 traders’ space been reduced when – at the original planning application – you guaranteed the space?
MK: The 300 space market was suggested in the original proposals for Project Jennifer but would have been bigger than what is currently needed and can no longer be afforded in the revised scheme. The space that would have been taken by the market will now be offered as a retail unit.
BD: There are about 100 outdoor traders on Great Homer Street not forgetting the butchers wagon, and traders in the shops. An average trader takes 20ft with others taking 30- 40- 50 ft, so 300 stalls is a must – as was promised at the start of the project. This is our last good market left in the city under their 11 year mismanagement. What does that also tell you?
Why, if spend is tight, have you chosen the market as the fall guy, when it’s clear that the market is the only venture that’s kept the community alive? Why could their wishes not have been given equal consideration to Sainsburys?
MK: The change in location was driven by the traders themselves who wanted more space. Dryden Street gives us that. The trader representatives gave us the size / numbers of stalls they wanted and we have worked hard to deliver these requirements for them. With any consultation involving such a large number of traders, it is difficult to please everyone, particularly when they often have differing views and competing demands.
BD: The change in location was not driven by the traders it was driven by the Council, St Modwen (developers) and Geraud. Until September last year the traders thought they were getting 300 outdoor stalls in the heart of Project Jennifer. In a meeting the traders were giving the news that their space was being reduced from 300 stalls to 57-70 (which at best is only enough to cater for 17-20 traders.) This decision was taken without any consolation with any outdoor trader, some who have been there for 40 years. Their ambitions are not to be pushed from the heart of the project. It’s not difficult to please everybody – just do what was promised. The traders are the only ones out of this who are not getting what was promised!
Why were the traders not consulted on changes that directly affect their livelihood? Why were they given the new plans, in September 2013, with no prior knowledge of fundamental changes?
MK: They have been fully consulted and will continue to be.
BD: The traders were not consulted – as promised – about these changes. If they had, we wouldn’t be having this debate, at the 11th hour. And there wouldn’t be so much anger at the way the Council have ignored us.
Geraud states there are currently 95 outdoor traders, and 80 indoor. Many traders believe the new market, according to the plans they’ve seen, doesn’t have the space needed for these stalls – especially as outdoor stalls can be 30 foot long, nor their cars and vans. Do you disagree?
MK: Yes we disagree. The proposals for Dryden Street provide for 80 indoor stalls (2.44m x 1.83m), 178 outdoor stalls (3.05m x 3.05m), 157 car parking spaces and 61 van parking spaces. There is scope to change the actual mix of stall numbers and sizes and the split between car paring and van parking. There is also potential to make the market bigger if required using property already in Council ownership.
BD: The traders have been in meetings since September to say they want to be in the centre of the project, and that what was on offer in Dryden street wasn’t big enough for their vans and the size of their stalls. Also, it isn’t big enough for customer parking, and aisle space for getting around the market with buggies, trollies or physically impaired. There are also at least 50 traders in the shops who trade on a Saturday, and they have not been considered.
Why can’t the east side traders stay where they are until 2015?
MK: We don’t want to spilt the market and have visitors crossing the road when they can all be safely contained in one location. It will maximise the footfall for the market if we make it a destination in its own right.
BD: The East side (better know as the main market side ) is not getting developed till late 2015, so the traders don’t see any reason moving off the same spot they have been trading on for years to go anywhere temporary or permanent before this time.
These traders are getting pushed out of the heart of this development: the same people who have kept the area going for thirty years without any investment. For a double whammy, they’ve been told if they dig their heels in and try and stay after May 2014 the licence will be pulled and they would be trading illegally and arrested. Is that fair? If the traders could stay trading on their pitch, they’ll get a little security for themselves and family for the next 16 months. The shops could accommodate the indoor easily but that’s a view which is constantly getting dismissed to everybody’s frustration.
If the traders have to move to Dryden Street, do you think a spend of just £1.2 million on a new location in a £150 million project (less than 1%, in other words) says just how little the city values its markets?
MK: The city council does value its markets and is committed to making them successful.
BD: We believe the market should still be at the heart of, and funded by, Project Jennifer. It shouldn’t be funded by the Council to the tune of £1.2 million of public money, on a back street gamble. Especially when our great city has been battered by Cameron, Osbourne and the swingeing cuts from Whitehall.
Do you not think it would be far safer and easier for the indoor and the outdoor on the west side to come over to the east side till autumn 2015 – there is enough space, as agreed by Geraud.
MK: No, we do not think this. We have carefully considered all the options and we believe that the proposals that we have put forward are the right way to build a thriving, successful market.
BD: Unfortunately consultation with the traders concerning the market on Dryden Street has broken down due to the council refusing to talk to the committee representing all traders and shop keepers on the east side (main side) of Great Homer Street, this can hopefully be resolved with the Council seeing sense and realising the traders are not just going to lay down and go away. They have put to much into this area and deserve their views to be heard.
We Would also like the council to take this into account – what happens to the shops who are open 6-7 days a week so the locals can get their basic day to day items? Do they lose out to Sainsburys too? The shops keep the community going, even if it’s for a local resident just going for a browse to get some company or a chat. What happens to them when the market goes and they have to survive a extra 16 months before they can get relocated in the new development without the extra income the market brings on a Saturday?
You can read the headline recommendations of the Portas Review here
Read our previous post about the issue, for background information, here
You can read about what the Markets Alliance thinks here