Long, long ago in a not-so faraway land there were three villages a day’s walk from each other. Each had a church and a market cross where farmers brought their produce and pedlars sold their wares. As the years passed the villages grew into towns, each centred on the original village street which was called Kirkgate, meaning Church Road.
Industries grew up in the towns and people from the countryside moved in to work in the mills, followed by immigrants from all over the world. Bradford, Wakefield and Leeds became thriving multicultural cities and splendid market buildings were erected housing traders selling cheap food to the factory workers, exotic goods to the foreigners and quality produce to the emerging middle classes, right in the heart of the cities where of course the land was most valuable.
One day in 1970 a property developer came to Bradford Corporation and told them they needed to demolish their magnificent Victorian market hall and replace it with a shopping centre. Petitions by residents and protestations from luminaries such as Sir John Betjeman and JB Priestley cut no ice with the Council, who declared that the site “was not contributing its full potential to the shopping attractions of the city”. The market was pulled down and a dismal concrete shopping arcade was built in its place. The developer was John Poulson, later jailed for corruption.
Wakefield had already lost its market hall in the 1960s but a new market had grown up to inconvenience the council. One day in 2008 the Trinity Walk Shopping Centre offered to build a new market hall which would be a “milestone in the transformation of Wakefield”. Six years on, despite more petitions and protestations, it is being demolished and the market traders scattered randomly around the shopping precincts to “improve the vibrancy and viability of the city centre”.
Leeds still has its glorious market hall where all classes and nationalities can mingle while they shop, but the Council has aspirations to “rise in the retail rankings and “enhance the city centre environment” with the Victoria Gate development promising to bring a taste of luxury branding directly opposite the market. The building itself is now too iconic to demolish but it is all too easy to imagine a future Kirkgate Market as a purveyor of boutique, vintage and artisan goods while the community of customers is scattered to the discount sector, and the traders dispersed to some remote and unpopular site. It happened in Bolton. It happened in Sheffield. Don’t believe it can’t happen in Leeds.
Long before the plans have been approved, the traders in the 1976 hall, many of whom have been there for decades, have been given six months’ notice to vacate their stalls to make way for a Covered Daily Market and Event Space which will, according to the market management, “encourage interest and vibrancy not seen in this area”.
The traders, of course, see things differently. Many have lost a lot of business as a result of the car park fiasco and are now faced with having to find a new stall, probably at a higher rent and with additional expense for equipping it. Some will pull back to sister stalls in other parts of the market, some will take the money and leave and some will try to fight the decision, but none of them are happy. Even the traders in the surviving stalls are furious at the disruption.
This is no way to treat the people who have made millions of pounds for the Council over the years. The market is the only Council service that makes a profit.
At a recent meeting with Greg Mullholland MP, he was very sympathetic to FOLKM concerns. He agreed to make further enquiries on our behalf and he has now written to Martin Farrington, Director of City Development at Leeds City Council and contacted Sue Bentley, Judith Chapman, and Stewart Golton, Lib Dem councillors at Leeds City Council.
What we really need is some corrective action by the council – let us see if anything is forthcoming.
The plans for the refurbishment of the Market are now available on the Leeds City Council Website.
Here’s something we found on the market strategy pages. The Council don’t often post documents on these pages, and when they do they often mysteriously vanish, but this one, dating from just a couple of weeks before the car park closed, shows how right the traders were to be concerned and how slow the Council has been to act on their own recommendation:
It was felt that to aid traders, clear signage should be erected to assist customers to the nearest car park and it was asked that the council should consider subsidising customer car parking.
In the last few days, leaflets have been distributed and banners hung from lamp-posts in the city centre announcing £2 off parking in the NCP car park for customers who spend £5 in the market and 20 minutes’ free parking in the loading bays in George Street, and now the Council have announced a 20% rent reduction (subject to approval) for stallholders.
Let’s hope that while they finally pay attention to what they were told four months ago, they also keep up with the openness and leave the link there; if not here’s the document in full:
2014 03 24 Notes of Trader Meeting
Last year the council, without warning, removed the seats from the outdoor market area, while there were posh new seats for shoppers in Dortmund Square, Briggate and so on.
Is this idiocy, or discrimination with malice?
Now the council, no doubt to flatter the needs of Victoria Gate developers Hammersons, have closed the only car park serving Kirkgate Market, causing the takings of market traders to slump by up to 40 per cent within two weeks.
No attempt at all was made to provide any sort of proper alternative.
Government Minister David Willetts has said that the Government wants to ‘revitalise high streets by making them more attractive, sustainable and locally relevant’.
This historic and vibrant market, Kirkgate Market, is at the heart and soul of our own high street’s sustainability – far more so, in my view, than any John Lewis superstore.
I therefore ask again, is this council acting with idiocy or blind malice?
Mike Harwood, Kirkstall
I was in Leeds market on three, if not four, separate occasions last month, and each time it was just as busy as I’ve known it to be.
The closure of the car park has in my opinion had little effect, judging by the number of shoppers I’ve observed.
Hundreds of buses pass very close to Leeds market each day and offer a far more convenient, not to mention cost effective, way of shopping there.
Plus, the railway station is only a five-minute walk away.
Why drive into the city centre when parking is so expensive and difficult to find? It’s a no-brainer if you ask me.
Nick Keer, Cottingley
IT’S easy to tell that Labour are in control of Leeds City Council, as their latest blunder puts the businesses of many Leeds market traders in jeopardy as takings drop by almost half.
For who in their right mind would close the main car park on which market customers depend, when there is so little alternative parking provision in Leeds without any contingency plan?
But common sense or business acumen are qualities sadly lacking in the dogmatic mindset of Labour, epitomised by them currently spending many thousands of pounds painting lamp posts which were already galvanized to stop them going rusty! God help this country if Labour get back in, we will really struggle then.
DS Boyes, Rodley
Editor’s Note: The council is now offering shoppers who spend £5 at Kirkgate Market a £2 discount on a two-hour stay at the nearby NCP car park on New York Street. A new collect-by-car point has also been set up on George Street alongside the market.
On Wednesday July 2nd Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market made an impassioned deputation speech to the full meeting of Leeds City Council, expressing our concerns around the development of the Eastgate Quarter and the proposed regeneration of the market.
One of the expressed aims of the Council is to reduce poverty in the city and FoLKM displayed a £5 bag of supermarket vegetables compared with a £5 big box of much larger quantities of the same vegetables obtained from the Market for the same amount of money.
FoLKM also expressed concerns about the lack of communication and information on the closure of the Union Street car park, and on how the market traders had lost 40% of their business due to people driving to out-of-town supermarkets instead.
So, thanks to the outcry by FoLKM and others, your fiver will not only get you twice the goodies you can buy at the supermarket but £2 off the parking charges as well.