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Lancaster Market MARKET BLUES
Writer: John Freeman
Posted: July 2001 Updated: 6/5/03

If you've had enough of being a wage slave, and fancy a crack at being your own boss, it's worth remembering that there's many a self-made millionaire got their start as a trader at the local market. But if you live in Lancaster, you'd better watch out! These days rents and rates are so high in the Town Centre that many small business have had to close and new ones are seriously discouraged. The new market hall -- now threatened with closure -- is no exception...

Lancaster's old Market after the devastating fireLancaster once had a packed and thriving Victorian market, until a fire broke out and it was completely destroyed in the early 1980s. Until the present building was completed, together with the Marketgate shopping complex, the market stalls were temporarily relocated to an area by the bus station, which has probably in part had a long term effect on sales from which it is only now beginning to recover.

The stalls that are currently open are still busy, offering a wide variety of local goods that you'd be hard-pressed to find in any of our local supermarkets. There's a good range of butchers, a bakers, a herbalist and an excellent framing and picture gallery as well as a tobacconists, CD and record stall, fishmongers and more. On average, prices, particularly food prices, are as good as, if not cheaper than, many local supermarkets.

Unfortunately, the new market is poorly designed - despite concerns raised about its design during rebuilding - and follows the 'shopping mall' concept of having two floors of stalls. This means that some stalls suffer from poor visibility which has in part affected their take-up. Another factor which may prevent take up is that the commodity must not already be being sold on the market.

The major problem, however, is seen as the high rent, a problem not confined to the Market for small businesses but one which it's felt has meant there has been little interest in taking up stalls.

In July 2001 Lancaster City Council announced they were going to reduce stall rents in a bid to encourage new traders. 16 stalls were empty at this point.

According to the Lancaster Guardian (27/7/01), the rent levels for stall holders are agreed on the basis of open market rent, although they are governed to some degree by the rent paid by Lancaster City Council to the market's leasholders, Edinburgh House Estates. EHE bought the Marketgate complex from Centreville Properties in late 2002 for £17.25 million, according to Property Week.

Prior to the announced reductions, the cheapest stall currently available on Lancaster Market would cost you 125.88 per week - plus 115 per month business rates.

On Morecambe Indoor Market, you can rent a stall by the day - on Tuesdays and Thursdays it's only 9, total charges. On Saturday 11, and for the big Sunday Market it's only 16. Not only that, but there's free on-street parking nearby (not to mention Morrison's carpark!) and a huge open council carpark on site with free disabled parking. Morecambe market is booming - and local trade means local profit, which is good for the area. The Assembly Rooms on King Street, which is also run by the Council, offers stalls from as little as £13.50 a week. (The stall holders there have been delighted by the hard work council officials have been engaged in recently to encourage trade).

Lancaster Market stall holders acknowledge the difference in costs. "Obviously this market is more expensive than Morecambe but the facilities are so much better than in a normal market," cobbler Peter Clarke, chairman of the market traders committee told the Lancaster Guardian. However, Clarke is hopeful that changes like the ones recently announced will help all the stall holders, and he's keen to work with the council in improving usage and the amount of trade the market is getting.

Although some people have claimed that the owners of the Marketgate complex would prefer the market to close, so that they can develop it into a department store or "shopping mall", there's no evidence for this and recent moves to boost trade are very welcome.

Other voices decry a series of confused and uncoordinated policies, that have led to our city council discouraging local traders. Instead it seems to favour out of centre supermarkets whose profits are channelled out of the area. Some of the proposals in the new City Centre Strategy, which the public have been asked to comment on, address that issue head on, with plans for reinvigorating much of the central shopping area just part of a new agenda for the City.

In March 2003, Lancaster City Council reported that trade had picked up at Lancaster Market as new traders have arrived and "more are on the way." Changes included Micro Markets tripling their space to expand their product range, and the arival of Aurora Cosmetics, Print 'N' etch and A1 Mobility. The Market staff were dealing with five other enquiries all with a view to starting a business within the Market over the next few weeks.

"This is very encouraging for existing traders and new traders," commented Lancaster City Council's corporate director for regeneration John Donnellon. "This will give the customers a wider variety of stalls to choose from, complementing the existing traders who have a wealth of experience in their various Market trades and can offer excellent advice and service. Lancaster City Council and the Market Traders' Committee are working closely together to make sure this positive improvement will continue for a long time to come. "

In May 2003 -- the day after local elections -- the Lancaster Guardian has reported that the city's market may be re-modelled, divided up or closed altogether in an attempt to improve the building's flagging fortunes.

"Alternative uses" for the market will be discussed unless ways can be found to reduce a 250,000 budget deficit.
Talks will begin this year between the city council and the market's new owners London-based Edinburgh House Estates, who bought it late last year as part of a 17.25 million pound freehold purchase of the Marketgate shopping centre. The entire centre currently generates annual rents of 1.4 million.

Property Week reports that Edinburgh House Estates was established in March 2001 and has created a directly owned shopping centre portfolio of 110m. It has also formed a 30m joint venture with Anglian Water Group.

Some of the shopping centres owned by EHE in other parts of the country, such as Waterborne Walk in Leighton Buzzard, are highly-prized properties, typically in the 7m-15m value range. Many are anchored by the large stores chains such as of Kwik Save, Wilkinson or Iceland.

• We think it would a disaster if Lancaster Market was to close and urge everyone to write to your councillors opposing any plan to further erode its viability. You could also write to EHE to express your views to: Edinburgh House Estates, Edinburgh House First Floor, 40 Great Portland Street, London W1W 7LZ.

OneSupport your local market! Increased use for the stalls that are there already can only encourage traders to consider taking up stalls. There is an incredible range of good on sale, including books, records, household goods, local meat and diary products, vegetables and much more.

TwoStop using supermarkets! The average item of food purchased from a supermarket travels over 1000 miles; by lorry/plane from the producer to the store and then by car from the store to the consumer. Shopping at supermarkets also supports factory farming. It's estimated that for every supermarket opened in a local aea, 200 - 300 local jobs are lost, as a whole network of local ships and their suppliers is destroyed.

Three Shopping at the market is fun! The stall holders talk to you when you buy stuff. You have time to stop and chat with friends. Plus, from experience, it's actually quicker to buy everything you want from the market than it is in Sainsbury's on a Saturday, once you've worked out who sells what and where the stall is in relation ot others.

Furey's vegetable stall upstairs on Lancaster Market offer free same day home delivery in the area for orders over £5. They also offer discounts to students and OAPs. This isn't an advert - it's the recommendation of a happy anonymous customer who doesn't have a car and can't be bothered to carry those spuds home. Best of all, they also stock local organic produce.

Dont Forget! You can have your say about this or any other local issues on our Public Forum. Read what others have got to say - and join the debate, or start one of your own!



10/6/03: Lancaster City Council and the Traders of Lancaster Market have joined forces to confirm that Lancaster Market is not closing as some press reports have indicated.

2/5/03: The Lancaster Guardian has reported that the city's market may be re-modelled, divided up or closed altogether in an attempt to improve the building's flagging fortunes. Read More...

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If you have any information on the ownership of the market -- Centerville Properties don't appear to have any web presence -- or you know of any problems stall holders have, or have any ideas about how small local businesses can be encouraged to return to Lancaster, please let us know!

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