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Market Inquiry – Part 1 (07/12/2010)

December 14, 2010

As announced previously in this blog Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market took part in the first meeting of Leeds City Council’s “City Centre Development Scrutiny Board” inquiry into Kirkgate Market.  Present as witnesses were Cath Follin and Paul Stephens, council officers responsible for the Market; John Perriton from the National Market Traders Federation and representatives of Traders in Leeds Kirkgate Market and Megan Waugh and Sara Gonzalez from FoLKM. See Guardian Leeds report on the meeting.

Cath Follin (Council Officer – Head of City Center Management), whose report can be found here, opened with some basic figures – Kirkgate has 600 stalls and about 60 are vacant.  It made £2.1m contribution to the Council last year, down from £2.3m the previous, though there were several things that caused this.  Footfall was down 14% but voiding (retailers leaving) was steady.  New customers are needed particularly the young urban dweller who wouldn’t normally visit or  students.  Supermarkets are cheap, have a nice enviroment, take credit cards and sell online, and the Market needs to match this.  If it was improved Kirkgate could be an ‘anchor for the city’. The council presented a context were the decline of the Market would seem inevitable but without acknowledging their part in creating the decline, as we have argued repeteadly.

The Chairman of the Scrutiny Board then frankly admitted that under the previous regime of which he was a part, the Council didn’t run the Market very well, and he mentioned that having spoken to the current Leader of the council, Councillor Wakefield, he did not feel that the previous labour administration had done a good job either.

The Head of the NMTF gave a quick rundown of the national picture – said that footfall was generally falling, there was an aging customer and trader base and opening hours weren’t convenient especially for working couples.  However Kirkgate is the biggest market in europe and had great variety and trader expertise.  The market was found to be 30% cheaper than supermarkets in two surveys carried out by the NMTF.  The Eastgate development may be a problem for the market.  Nationally markets are high on the political agenda and are seen as potential successes, rather than a thing of the past.

Liz Laughton head of Leeds Market Traders Federation Branch then opened by calling for a dedicated Market department and for rent to fall.  She said that Leeds charged £81.65 per sq ft, whereas Nottingham only £50 per sq ft.  The Eastgate Development plans appeared to leave very little room for parking.

Sara and Megan then spoke for FOLKM saying that the market provided cheap fresh produce, was cheaper than the supermarkets, and had many social benefits.  Decline is not inevitable and although the Council had long recognised the need for investment, they had always tried to do this with private involvement.  Attitude needed to change to recognise the social, ecenomic and  cultural resource the market represented. We submitted a report with our thoughts and this will be available later to download.

On parking the Chair instructed Council Officers to contact NCP who had apparently been trying to broker a deal for traders to park cheaply in the multistorey carpark.

Barcelona Market has been quoted in the officers report as a success story. Michelle Hocken, a trader from Leeds who recetly visited Barcelona’s famous Boqueria Market however explained why the Market there was being succesfull:  it gets a large amount of custom from tourists (about 90%) , and charges very low rent, has long opening hours and traders have a rota system on stalls.  The Council also restricts supermarket building in the city centre, something Leeds Council seem to have relaxed in the last few years.  She argued that if we were to comapre this markets we needed to know thye full story. Members of the Scrutiny Board addede that in Barcelona there is a large population in the centre and transport is high quality and heavily subsidised. unlike Leeds. The success of the Barcelona Market was therefore based on some clear council policies and other issues that are not comparable to Leeds (tourist intake for example). Closer to home markets such as Leicester, Newcastle and St George’s in Belfast were all cited as success stories, and Wetherby’s turnaround (from losing £30k per yr to turning a profit of £40k) was partly put down to management being on the ground talking to traders daily.

Councillors did indulge in anecdotes a couple of times to say they thought markets weren’t always cheaper for produce, but this is clearly nearly always the case, and by some margin as several surveys including the NMTF ones mentioned above and several others have found – including our own £5 basket comparison with Tesco.

Agreement seemed to be reached on recommending a Market Committee – to meet regularly and include traders (and possibly FOLKM) councillors and officers.  The Chair said that it seemed ‘bizarre’ that there wasn’t one and hadn’t been for quite some time.  Other Councillors agreed and one said that the council Would do better to set it up management as an arms length organisation run by trustees.

The meeting ended with a request that Council Officers present a report with further information to the next meeting for further discussion.

A document called “Towards a Strategy for Kirkgate Market” is now to be discussed at the Executive Board meeting on wednesday 15th of December and we will update you on the developments.

The next inquiry meeting will be on the 11th of January and as this is a public meeting everyone is welcomed to come.

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