‘Dull and lifeless’ market needs boost

Consultants say the market is a little 'dull and lifeless' compared to the rest of the town
Consultants say the market is a little 'dull and lifeless' compared to the rest of the town

Extra measures are being sought to ‘relaunch’ Leighton Buzzard’s market after the latest figures revealed it is running at a loss for a third year.

Figures released by Leighton Linslade Town Council show that the market, which the town council took over the running of from Central Beds Council in 2013, is currently operating at a loss of £2,440 so far this financial year.

Last year the market suffered an overall loss of £8,633. This was substantially less than the previous year of 2014-15 which saw the market lose £17,815.

Now, extra measures are being sought by the town council to ‘relaunch’ the market via a three-year market improvement plan.

One of its first steps has been securing the release of £12,000 from its policy and finance committee to pay for external consultants.

This £12,000 also represents match funding as part of the council’s bid to gain financing from Central Beds Council’s Market Town Regeneration Fund.

Consultants, The Retail Group, made observations about the market, ahead of the full study being agreed by the council.

Following a preliminary visit, they raised questions about the market’s poor visibility, being split across both sides of the high street, poor stall fabric, dated fixtures, ‘old school’ presentation standards, and traders not visibly engaging with customers.

They added that the market feels “a little dull and lifeless in comparison to the rest of the town”, but said there were circa 20 stalls covering a good selection of product categories, with a number of good traders.

But the decision to employ consultants has been greeted with dismay by some commentators.

Town centre campaigner and former bookshop owner Colin Ashby said: “The loss is a little less than I predicted, but then the council did cut back the promotion budget! It is three years of losses on the trot.

“There has been a change in reporting which does change it, but the costs are spiralling out of control.”

He also took a swipe at the £12,000 consultancy fee, highlighting the number of surveys already undertaken in recent years. He said: “This will be wasted money. They have all the information and more.”

Mr Ashby said that he himself had produced an extensive business plan for the market, although this had been rejected. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) document prepared alongside market traders was also allegedly rejected by the town council.

Market sub-committee chairman Cllr Mark Freeman explained that the three year loss was a result of a number of “one-off costs” that had increased expenditure.

He said: “One of the things that has been an additional cost that we weren’t anticipating is the security on the high street, with the road closure and barrier on a Saturday.

“Ultimately we won’t be running at a loss, it’s actually an improving situation.”

Cllr Freeman also defended the market improvement plan with its hiring of a consultancy.

He said: “The consultancy will now start to gather research. They will then put that together and try to point us in the right direction. There have been previous bits of work done, but to a certain extent some of these are historical and others may not have been as scientific as they could have been.

“Obviously, we want to encourage more people to come, we want to improve the farmers market, and make new traders feel welcome.

“One or two [new traders] have the view that they are treated differently ... probably because when someone new comes along, all of the new rules are there while some of the existent traders are still in transition.”

Mr Ashby added: “it is a very complicated issue. It also has an impact on the South Side development, which CBC have gone very quiet on. If the market can be greatly increased then it helps to sell the town to developers.

“This is serious stuff as a lot of traders are hacked off.”

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