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Council to hold inquiry over ‘missing Market strategy’

October 6, 2010

We have to report more controversial goings on at Leeds City Council over the future of Kirkgate Market. At the City Development Scrutiny Board on the 5th of October, Friends of Kirkgate Market were present as frustrated Councillors   announced an inquiry into the long awaited but still missing Kirkgate Market strategy report as well as the nature of consultation with traders and public about the market’s plight. Minutes of this Scrutiny Board meeting are now available here (scroll to item n.55).

The last published strategy for Kirkgate Market dates back to 1996, so for almost 15 years there has been no long term thinking about the direction of the Market. Prompted by ongoing media reports about traders’ concerns that now date back more than a year and a delegation of traders to Full Council meeting in April 2010, Council officers have been (very) quietly drafting a Market strategy. It had been due to be presented to Scrutiny Board last Tuesday but the Council officers responsible for managing the Market came ’empty-handed’. They offered four reasons for why they were unable to finalise the market strategy: (1) an independent rent review is currently being conducted by the district valuer; (2) the results of a full stock condition survey are pending; (3) a new market manager will soon be appointed; (4) and the impact of the renewed Eastgate scheme is yet to be clarified.

To say that Councillors were not very impressed by these comments would be putting it mildly. Councillor John Procter, Chair of the Scrutiny Board, said that “it is quite unacceptable for a scrutiny board of this Council to be strung along and does us no favours with the market traders and the public at large”. Councillors criticised Market managers for their inactivity and lack of action.  They said the Market had been allowed to decline and that a long term strategy had been missing.

Another big theme of the meeting was the issue of ‘consultation’ around the strategy. Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market had sent Scrutiny Board members a series of questions to ask council officers at the meeting regarding what kind of consultation had taken place so far and what future plans there were to engage traders and members of the public. Market managers mentioned two big public meetings with traders as evidence of consultation (traders and members of Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market who attended these meeting would know that these were no such thing) as well as meetings with traders from different areas of the Market. They also said that once the draft was ready there would be wide consultation with traders and the public and that Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market would be involved.

Again members of the Scrutiny Board showed frustration at such process and asked why the strategy was not being written WITH traders rather than consulting with them afterwards. Councillor Procter said: “The notion that you can leave the traders out and determine the future of the market without them is storing up trouble and I can’t think of why you would want to do that”.  Another, Councillor Atha, pointed out “It’s straight out of Kakfa. If I was a trader I would be in despair”. There was no real substantial answer from officers around this issue and Councillors concluded by stating that they were not convinced about the whole approach.

Councillors then voted in favour of launching an inquiry. It was interesting to hear that the Scrutiny Board had considered doing so back in July after an Executive Board meeting but that there had been representations by Council officers running the Market asking them not to do so and assuring them that the Market strategy was, ahem, ‘imminent’.

No doubt we’ll be writing more about this inquiry ‘imminently’…

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