Council has overlooked 'too many opportunities' to improve Northampton Market Square

Market Square.
Market Square.

The chair of Northampton’s Market Advisory Group (MAG) says the borough council is simply ignoring recommendations from traders at its peril.

The group was formed in 2012 as a forum for communication between Northampton Borough Council and the traders and is well attended.

Market Square.

Market Square.

As chair he produced a plan to improve the visitor experience, environment and overall appearance of the market in 2015.

The group still meets - but he says the borough council has now “decided to go it alone” and, in the last six months, has done so without proper consultation.

The authority has commissioned a separate report and a separate “steering group”, which at the last crucial vote, was attended by just two traders.

Mr Everall said: “On many occasions [the council] has been either unable to implement good ideas or suggestions by traders or unwilling. I have now, after the recent events affecting the market, come to believe that they and their officers are unable.”

Market Square.

Market Square.

Mr Everall, the former director of Northampton BID and a business owner in the town since 1978, says there have been “too many opportunities and options overlooked” by the council since 2012.

To add to this he says the market has suffered from a lack of investment - even though he believes the authority has overspent on the daily management of the site.

Mr Everall believes the council should consider a radical solution - removing the under-used central stalls to create a covered inner square.

Events and fairs could be held there, he said.

Market Square.

Market Square.

But the recommendation has never been progressed.

He said: “There’s a great future for markets if they’re diverse, community-led, multicultural and visitor-friendly. But you need an enlightened borough council to achieve this end and, unfortunately, it’ll be obvious to most visitors that this has not been achieved in Northampton.

“The resulting poor management and surrounding environment issues around the market in the last five years has, I feel, negatively affected the livelihoods of the traders.

“Myself and the traders have tried in vain to make this current council act on so many fronts to stem the decline.

“I would now urge the borough council to listen to our market traders and visitors to the market in Northampton and finally invest.”

Some traders fear the placing of the new aisle is a sign the council is not intending to follow through on another recommendation - that of having shuttered stalls in the square.

Mr Fitzpatrick, whose fruit and veg stall faces the Grosvenor Centre, said: “If you had shuttered stalls here, you could have seven-days-a-week trading.”

The trader, who admits has faced a backlash from his fellow market sellers for voting through the unpopular new aisle, believes the project to make all the temporary market pitches into permanent shuttered stalls would cost £300,000.

The move would mean business owners could keep stock at the premises and their point of sale stands locked up overnight.

In July, the council said it was looking into it.

In a letter to the Chronicle & Echo this week, deputy leader of the council, Councillor Phil Larratt (Con, East Hunsbury) has defended the recent works in Market Square.

He said: "I would like to set a few records straight regarding the Chronicle & Echo’s front page splash last week.

"First and foremost, we have not added an additional lane for shoppers through our market, we have widened an existing lane where stalls were difficult to let as it was previously dark, dingy and unwelcoming. It is now bright, airy and customer friendly.

"Throughout the process, we have offered traders numerous chances to comment and engage. This has included newsletters, meetings and a steering group that all traders were invited to join. Only a handful of traders did so we proceeded in good faith with the understanding that the change had their support.

"Needless to say, we were absolutely stunned by the reaction which comes in stark contrast to many of the conversations we’ve had with traders throughout the process.

"The implication throughout the story and the supporting Chron Comment piece is that the borough council is introducing measures which will destroy the market. Can I ask precisely what evidence supports that view?

"There’s a suggestion that most people access the market from the Grosvenor Centre. On the contrary, an average of 50,000 people per week enter from the Drapery, a fact based on actual footfall figures.

"We’ve taken independent advice from a professional organisation which has helped revitalise markets across the country, which has supported the action we have taken. There are a great many more suggestions within the report which, based on sound evidence from elsewhere, could help improve ours.

"We know much of the advice we’ve received would potentially upset a few traders so we’ve committed to working with them as we seek to improve things for everyone. It’s easy to forget that, while we feel we have a responsibility to support the traders, their shoppers are at least as important.

"Many measures have been introduced, including a continuing rent reduction, to ensure that our market traders have the most beneficial environment in which to operate. We continue to support a better Northampton town centre."