Last week myself and John Haywood from the Banbury and Cherwell Green Party visited the market in central Banbury to speak to the stall holders about the changes being proposed to this 1000 year old tradition in the heart of an historic town.
We spoke with all the stallholders present, although sadly they were only 10 of them trading on the day. They were all all opposed to Cherwell District Council’s illogical and damaging decision to restrict the stalls to the Cornhill end of the Market Place. A plan also supported by the Conservative controlled Town Council.
I started my own 25 year long retail career on a market stall, and worked it for 7 years with my partner though rain, hail sleet, snow and sunshine. I know how difficult it can be to make a living and how fragile the trading environment can be. Your livelihood can depend on so many variable factors, and one of the major fears is losing your regular pitch, for whatever reason.
It may seem silly to anyone who hasn’t traded in a market themselves, but where your stall sits can make all the difference between success and failure. The location of competing trades, the flow of people moving through the market, who your neighbours are, your visibility and prominence in the market as a whole are all desperately important.
There appears to have been absolutely no consultation with stall holders or customers about these unpopular changes, and based on what stallholders and visitors told me I foresee them being the death knell for this historic trading post as more and more traders fall by the wayside.
So what seems like a minor change to the council, will probably be anything but to the people trying to make a living out of the market. This move could likely kill it off! it’s already become smaller and therefore less popular, especially over the last 20 years. In 1997 there were 120 stalls, now its down to less than 20.
Considering it’s reduced pull for consumers it’s completely incongruous that the rents being charged by the private firm managing on behalf of the council are almost double that charged by neighbouring markets such as Abingdon, Aylesbury, Hinkley, Oxford and Thame. And as with most things these days, the rent goes up every year. Meanwhile trade is slowly dwindling away to nothing, leaving regular and loyal traders quite literally out in the cold.
The Council’s plan includes opening the Market car park for use on Thursdays and Fridays. There is no evidence to suggest this will increase car park usage and revenue to the Council – people already using other car parks such as that near to the Matalan Store will simply park in the market place instead.
Government initiatives on town centre regeneration called for more emphasis and support for market days and the traders that build and run these vital hubs of trade and local amenity in our towns and cities. The Portas review cited markets as one of the easiest ways that town centres could be revitalised and kept alive. Why then is the Conservative run Cherwell Council ignoring the views of it’s own established market traders? Why are they proposing moves that could potentially irreparably damage trade in such an established and once vibrant local fixture?
Banbury market should be seen by Cherwell Council as an asset to the town. They should be supporting it actively and engaging with the traders and customers to find ways of safeguarding the it’s future, rather than taking unilateral actions with no consultation.
This is a Charter Market, which bestows on Banbury the status of a Market Town. By birthright it should be located in the Market Square.
I would urge Cherwell councillors to do what I did. Take a walk around the market and speak to the people whose livelihoods are in their hands. Speak also to the local residents and patrons of the market and ask them what they think about the priorities that they are planning to enforce on everyone.
This is not a decision that can be taken just by moving squares on a map.