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Leeds City Council Press Release 29/09/11

Leeds City Council Press Release September 29th, 2011 – OUR COMMENTS ARE IN ITALICS

Market bucks retail trends

Kirkgate Market is bucking the trend of doom and gloom on the high street, with footfall at the Leeds landmark up by four per cent in recent weeks whilst other retail areas are feeling the pinch.

True! Any increase in footfall is clearly good news and it’s no surprise as in hard financial times more people turn to markets to look for good quality affordable produce. That’s why our campaign has argued from the beginning that markets still have a vital role to play in meeting local needs and that many traditional markets have been bucking the trend and increasing footfall in recent years.

The recent upturn in the market’s fortunes can be attributed in part to a range of initiatives to attract new customers. A new ‘shop and drop’ scheme allowing customers to pick up produce in the morning and collect it after work has been a huge success and has won a national award and the market has been nominated for two retail awards.

False! So, a 4% increase in footfall is down to the Council’s new shop and drop scheme, is it? Really? As welcome as the new scheme is – we and traders had been calling for it for ages – it is obviously not the main cause of rising customer interest in the Market. It is the economic climate we are in.

National and international TV and film companies regularly use it as a including prime time shows like ‘Come Dine With Me’ and the council is working closely with students during freshers’ week to attract them to the market.

False! We are not sure what the Council means when it says it is ‘working closely with students’. What we do know is that as a direct result of the Friends of Kirkgate Market campaign, the Leeds University Student Union has passed  a motion to actively support and promote the market to students. Apart from some badly designed signs claiming that Kirkgate Market welcomes students, it’s hard to see any significant evidence of what is being done to attract students to the Market. This is not the first time that Leeds City Council has taken credit for something that has nothing to do with them. We – a group of volunteers – organised the successful Shop@Leeds Market Week which featured Opera North and got great publicity and the Council has since tried to claim some of the credit!

The welcome news comes as Leeds City Council looks to move forward with the next phase of plans to secure the long-term future of the market.

Media invite:

On Friday September 30, the council’s Market Champion, Councillor Gerry Harper will be at Kirkgate Market Offices at 12 noon to provide the first in a series of briefings on how the proposals for the future of the market are taking shape.

This was a great example of how badly the Council treats traders and the public over their Market. As our report explains, traders were not invited to the press conference and when they tried to get in, were physically barred, prompting a protest and negative news coverage. The press were given so little notice that very few turned up – the only coverage of the briefing itself and the events in the market was on BBC Radio Leeds – the Yorkshire Evening Post simply rewrote the press release they had been sent. You can write to so-called Market ‘champion’ at gerald.harper@leeds.gov.uk and ask when he is planning to hold the next briefing and whether it will be taking place in private again. Please let us know what response you get  – if any?

Work will shortly begin on the first phase of a programme to carry out essential maintenance to the building. This will include £200k of investment on the market’s electrics and ventilation systems, as well as repairs to the roof of the 1904 building. A further second phase of much-needed works totalling £400k is planned for the coming months.

While we of course welcome this small amount of investment, we don’t think that carrying out essential and overdue repairs and maintenance on the market’s electrical and ventilation systems is something to boast about – they are simply fulfilling their legal obligation as landlords and are finally doing their job. £600k amounts to less than one year’s income from the service charge that traders pay on top of their rents. The charge, which is supposed to contribute to repairs and maintenance, is paid by all indoor traders – not just those in the upper 1904 hall which is being singled out for maintenance investment.

The council is also looking to finalise plans for long-term investment that will return the market to its former glory. They are asking an independent specialist  to advise them on how to make the most of the market space so that work on the improvements can start in earnest.

False!!! We have read the small print of the tender documents and we can tell you that these consultants will not be independent. They are being asked by the Council to put together a plan to hand over control and ownership of the market to the private sector. So far the Council haven’t revealed what the budget is for these consultants. But we do know that the the council is planning to have appointed the consultants by the end of October and that they are rushing this process through with no time for any real public debate or consultation. Traders were initially told that the consultants would produce their recommendations in just three short months but the tender document for consultants seems to suggest that the council want a final report by then end of November! That’s right – just one month to work out the best future for an institution that is 100s of years old. Sound like a stitch up?

The specialists will advise on the optimum and most competitive size of the market as well as the potential for securing significant investment for its renovation, possibly in  partnership with the private sector.

Warning! We have suspected all along that the Council wants to shrink the Market and sell off some of the land. All of sudden, in the last few months, it has publicly talked about the Market being ‘too big’. Now it has asked private consultants to tell it what the right ‘size’ is – but it has presented no evidence or undertaken any research or consultation, into this matter, and the ‘size’ did not enter into the discussions that took place as part of councillors’ own Scrutiny Inquiry into the market. As usual, there is no discussion about the rents, service charges and business rates, and the Council’s mismanagement to date. Nor is there any acknowledgement that the Market makes a profit for the Council which is not protected or re-invested in the Market.  This used to happen and is something that traders and FOLKM have been calling for. At every council meeting which traders and Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market have attended we have been told that there are no plans to privatise the market or sell it off. The six month Scrutiny Inquiry recommended that the market should remain in council control but executive board then asked that the option of setting up an Arms Length Management Organisation should be explored. Now the council have set up a project board and are recruiting consultants with the specific remit of assessing “likely interest from the private sector”. Markets Manager has been quoted as saying that privately run businesses have a number of advantages over local council-run spaces. And at a recent meeting with Leeds Victorian Society, Cath Follin, Head of city centre and Markets department, said the council were interested in looking at public private partnership models for managing the marking, she then mentioned Liverpool markets – which are privately managed.

Councillor Cllr Gerry Harper, deputy executive member for city development and Markets Champion, said:

 “The fact that we are already investing significant sums of money in Kirkgate Market is indicative of the council’s long-term commitment to the building, which is the jewel in the city’s retail crown. The fact that the bulk of this tiny sum of money is being spent on repairing the roof of the upper section of the market is indeed indicative of the council’s attitude towards the market buildings.
“It can’t be denied that there are still vacant stalls, particularly in the more recent extensions to the building. However occupancy rates are higher than on many high streets, and footfall in the market is increasing whilst it is falling elsewhere, which is extremely encouraging. This is thanks in no small part to the recent promotions and events which are bringing more shoppers through the doors. We have not seen any evidence which supports this claim. The council has no interest in understanding the demographic of market shoppers or why they shop there. They have conducted two surveys which have been primarily aimed at confirming their own views about the market rather than looking for opinions.

“The forthcoming investment in essential maintenance works is an important landmark in our efforts to secure the market’s long-term future. The next phase of this is getting specialist advice on how to make the most of this wonderful facility.

“The two temporary extensions were never designed to last as long as they have and now need millions of pounds of investment to bring them up to standard. The council have started referring to the 1981 and 1976 halls as ‘temporary extensions’ or temporary hanger structures – deliberately trying to create the impression that they are ‘past their sell by date’ to justify their demolition. The Council keep talking about the need for millions of pounds to be spent – but we have not yet seen ANY evidence of this and call on the Council to publish the reports on which these figures are based on.

“Unfortunately, due to current financial constraints, the council doesn’t have the capital available to carry out this work. The Council hasn’t told us what the repair bill would be, and it clearly does have ‘capital’ – the Market has provided around £2million a year in profit that has been spent elsewhere. It runs a £2billion budget and has £4billion worth of assets – it might now have less money than it had before the financial crisis and the ‘cuts’, but it has found tens of millions of pounds to build the new arena, and it has not asked the people of Leeds how its budget should be spent. We think the Market would be a very popular item for public money to be found.   Add to this that the 1976 building is currently under occupied, the responsibility for this ‘can be attributed in part’ to the market’s lettings policy and the fact that Kirkgate Market rents are the highest in the north of England so it is questionable whether it would be worth spending any further money on this section of the market before a final decision is made on its future. Above all, we want to make this a thriving place for shoppers and stall holders to trade again in a building befitting the market’s history.

“How we do this is one of the key questions we will be asking the consultants to consider. We will also ask them to assess whether the private sector interest is there to help us make this happen. The focus on gauging private sector interest in the market is not something that was part of the Scrutiny Inquiry Recommendations or  Executive Board decisions We hope they will report back very quickly so that we can start making the changes that traders and the public want to see. Why are they so desperate to rush through this process?

“We have not made any final decisions yet but I know there is uncertainty among traders so we want to ensure that they and the public are informed of the progress we’re making. The traders within the market are essential to its future success, so we want to make sure that they know what’s being proposed and give them the opportunity to have their say on it.” As usual Leeds City Council confuses democracy and consultation with “being informed” and “making sure they know”. You can write to Coun Harper at gerald.harper@leeds.gov.uk and ask him exactly what he has put in place to make sure this happens. 

Ends

Notes to Editors
Kirkgate Market is a Grade 1 listed building in a prime retail location in the heart of the city centre.  It is housed in five inter-connected halls: 1904 hall, the 1875 hall, a 1930s extension and two temporary hangar structures which form the rear of the indoor market.  These were added in 1976 and 1981 following a fire at the market and are now well past their expected 15-20 year lifespan and beyond economical repair.  This is a value judgement which has no basis in fact and should have no place in the Notes to Editors section of a press release.

In July this year and following a major inquiry into the future of the market, the council’s executive board agreed to transfer the market to an arms-length management organisation and instructed officers to investigate what form this should take.  Next week the council will formally go out to tender to procure a consultant to take this work forward, with a view to reporting back to the council with firm recommendations in the near future. The brief to consultants will be discussed in more detail at Cllr Harper’s briefing on Friday.

Ends

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