Confrontations have held back growth of ‘underwhelming’ Leighton market

Leighton Buzzard market.
Leighton Buzzard market.
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Action is needed to revamp Leighton Buzzard’s market and better management is required – according to a consultant’s report.

The Retail Group was commissioned by Leighton-Linslade Town Council to analyse the market and provide recommendations.

In their report, the group stated: “Overall, the market is currently presenting an underwhelming customer experience and not acting as the anchor it could be for the town.” The report specifically makes reference to “the confrontational relationship between trader representatives and market management” and it adds, “management is holding back performance and growth”.

A customer questionnaire highlighted large gaps in the market in areas such as childrenswear and clothing, and the report criticises the layout of the market – “split” on both sides of the high street with interference from taxis and buses. It also notes that 70% of traders were using traditional steel frames and tarpaulin, with just four traders using modern gazebos.

Former market trader Larry Gresham told the LBO that many of the report’s findings reiterated previous studies, which he claims were “completely ignored” by market management.

Last week, it also emerged that branded carrier bags costing the town council £1,500 were being given away for free after attempts to sell them at 40p each had failed.

In response to some of the criticisms of the report, Leighton-Linslade Town Council stated: “Working closely with key stakeholders who have a personal and business interest in the future success of any project can lead to challenging conversations and the market is no different.

“The Retail Group by way of their report identified this as a constraining factor which has been recognised.

“Since then, all stakeholders have been working more collaboratively in the common interests of the market which is welcomed by all. By way of market relaunch, the town council together with Central Bedfordshire Council are committing £113,000 to the project which we hope to be rolling out later this year.

“It is hoped that the investment will continue to raise the profile of the twice weekly market in the mutual interest of the town and the market traders alike. The town council shares the collective aspiration of hosting an increasingly vibrant and attractive market that will rival the best that local markets can offer.”

Regarding the £1,500 spent on carrier bags, the town council did not comment on reports that they had failed to retail at 40p. But, the spokesman added: “Having established the Leighton Buzzard Market brand, a conscious decision was taken to raise its profile by investing in biodegradable bags that are sustainable, attractive and environmentally friendly.

“It is hoped that the bags which are of an improved quality when compared to previous town council produced bags will be used on extended shopping trips to the benefit of the town centre and market alike.

“The cost of their production has been met from a budget specifically in place for the promotion of the market.

“By way of the lamp column banners, improved bags and social media campaign, these initiatives continue to demonstrate the town council’s commitment to the market.”