Market Failure?: Can the traditional market survive? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

3  The benefits of traditional retail markets

32. In the previous section we identified the challenges facing traditional retail markets. In this section we consider the benefits they can bring to local towns and communities, and, crucially, whether they are sufficiently important to warrant greater attention from local authorities and Government.

The multi-faceted nature of traditional retail markets

33. The All Party Parliamentary Markets Group (APPMG) set out, in their 2007 Markets Policy Framework document ,why "successful markets matter in all their forms." For the APPMG, "they contribute to the social, environmental and economic well-being of the nation" by:

34. Most contributors to this inquiry made similar points. Professor Sophie Watson placed particular stress on the ability of markets to act as a social focus for the local community, providing a space where different groups of people (across age, race and ethnicity) can mix casually with one another, thus breaking down potential hostilities between different groups, and acting as a space of social inclusion. A number similarly stressed the individuality and distinctiveness of each market, asserting, like Darlington Borough Council, "that many town centres replicate each other […] but markets are individual to the immediate locale",[57] and like Bolton Council that "these venues give identity, pride and a sense of belonging to local communities."[58]

35. Crucially, in terms of acknowledging the wider significance of markets, a number of councils explained to us how they were using markets to promote their key strategic goals, most—if not all—of which are also key Government objectives. Tim Hirst, Assistant Director, Commercial and Support Services, City of Bradford Metropolitan Council, explained that one of his council responsibilities was to make "the strategic case for markets […]," which

[…] is not just about making a profit, but it is helping economic growth, it is helping the local economy, but it is adding to that culture a sense of place and the cohesion aspect as well, as well as spin-offs to education and what-have you. It does tick a lot of boxes in terms of corporate priorities.[59]

Similarly, Southwark Council explained in its evidence that it "supports street markets and street trading because we believe they are economically, socially and culturally important to the Borough"[60] and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea observed, with regard to two markets in their locality, that:

Portobello and Golborne Road markets are unusual in that they serve some of both the richest and the poorest wards in Britain. These markets are particularly important in providing access to affordable healthy food and the opportunity for local people to set up stalls to meet the needs of their own communities, for example Moroccan food traders are particularly strong in Golborne Road. Socially these markets are places where the different communities in the borough can meet and shop.[61]

During his oral evidence to us, Malcolm Veigas, Assistant Director (Community Services) Bolton Metropolitan Council, highlighted "the five priorities that the council has—in terms of strong, safe and confident, cleaner, greener, achieving and prosperous" and emphasised that "the markets portfolio can add value to each of those areas, not just to those areas per se but by joining up activity and collaborating with other departments—whether it is regeneration, whether it is children or adult services, or whether it is Bolton NHS."[62]

36. In the rest of this section, we look in more detail at five key benefits that markets can provide: economic; social; health; regeneration; and, the environment, before ending with an analysis of the specific contributions and issues relating to specialist markets.

The economic benefits of markets

37. In the previous section we highlighted the key statistical indicators of markets' contribution to the national economy, namely customers spending an estimated £1.1-£3 billion a year at stalls run by some 46,000 market traders providing around 96,000 jobs across the UK. Our evidence provided a more detailed insight into these economic benefits.

38. One key economic benefit—also with social implications—is that thriving markets offer cheap, fresh food. The Retail Markets Alliance, for example, drew our attention to a shopping survey undertaken by the New Economics Foundation in 2005 which "found that in Lewisham a shopping basket of food cost £4.74 from the market compared to a cost of £7.18 to buy the same food from a supermarket."[63] It also referred to the National Market Trader Federation (NMTF) Shopping Basket Survey 2008 which "showed that, across a range of thirteen items, markets were on average 6% cheaper than supermarkets, and in relation to fresh produce, markets were 32% cheaper than supermarkets."[64] The clear implication is that markets can be especially important for the poorer sections of the community—including many elderly people, single parents on low incomes, students and young people—particularly at a time of recession. This view is reflected in much of the evidence we received. The Quarterbridge consultancy firm, for instance, stressed that "the low prices offered on markets have always played a vital role in providing for many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society, especially those with limited mobility and income"[65], a point echoed by, amongst others, the National Retail Planning Forum[66] and Mr Mel Hilbrown, Executive Director of St Albans Enterprise Agency and Director of St Albans Chamber of Commerce, who further commented in his evidence that:

it is noticeable that in times of economic downturn in St Albans we are hearing reports of those who would never have used the market now buying there. So markets also help those in deprived areas get better value but also those who may be deprived in wealthier areas.[67]

39. A further economic benefit, of importance to the whole retailing sector, is that thriving markets attract additional footfall into town centres, encouraging shoppers to buy not just at the market, but also at neighbouring shops. Indeed, a key point arising from the evidence we received is that markets should not simply be seen as competition to other forms of retail, but rather as complementary to it. In her evidence, Patricia Gray, Fareham Town Centre Manager, observed that markets "create a social hub. Whilst not all retailers benefit (because of the customer base they attract), most of them do claim that street market day is their busiest trading day of the week after Saturday."[68] Vale Royal Borough Council supported this contention:

When we were planning a major refurbishment of our Winsford Market we undertook extensive surveys of traders, local shopkeepers and customers. The findings were very interesting in that the local shopkeepers stated that market days were their busiest days and the manager of ASDA said that a market day was worth an extra £16,000 in turnover.[69]

Similarly, the Retail Markets Alliance quoted research commissioned by the London Development Agency which found that "customers shopping for food at street markets spend between £3,000 and £15,000 a day in nearby shops, and local retailers were almost universally supportive of markets"[70]. The Government's evidence quoted similar evidence from more rural areas:

A National Farmers' Union study found that 80 % of neighbouring businesses saw a boost in trade following the establishment of a market nearby. For example, WH Smith and Debenhams in Winchester, which are both adjacent to the local farmers' market site, reported a rise in takings of up to 30 percent on market days.[71]

A further related footfall point was that successful markets, particularly those that put on special events (for example family days organised at Nuneaton Market) or were able to advertise a particular expertise (eg ethnic food at Ridley Road Market in Hackney, one of the markets we visited during the course of this inquiry) could attract additional people from out of town and tourists.

40. Our evidence also highlighted the important role markets have in offering start-up opportunities for new businesses. Nick Rhodes, Head of Leicester Market and Enterprise, Leicester City Council, told us that, in the current economic circumstances, "a lot of people are coming in to being self-employed and looking for markets as a vehicle to do that". For him, "that is what markets are about, really—giving young people and others the opportunity to trade and, hopefully, to grow the business."[72] Further to this, during our visit to Leicester one of the councillors gave the example of one popular stall holder, a Romanian man, who sold cakes—he did not have sufficient turnover to run a shop, but could make a living from his stall. Also important to Nick Rhodes was the fact that markets mainly generated local jobs. He told us that "most of our traders are coming from within a five-to-ten mile radius of Leicestershire; that money is usually retained within the community, so that is poured back into it."[73] Other councils were similarly keen to emphasise the importance they attached to markets as a vehicle for establishing and developing new local businesses. In their submission, Bolton Council explained that their Market Services department "currently nurtures over 300 small businesses […] at the Ashburner St venue alone"[74] whilst Cllr Melvyn Teare from St Albans Council also stressed his pro-active approach to supporting traders, observing that "they are small businesses in their own right."[75] Tot Brill, Executive Director for Transport, Environment and Leisure Services, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which runs Portobello Road market, explained one of her council's job creating priorities as follows:

We want to link our markets into the creative economy of the area so that they are a starting place for young designers to reach an audience for their goods. We have been working with local arts organisations to find ways of regenerating and shifting people around the markets.[76]

41. For many witnesses, such as Anne Coffey MP, the importance of markets as a vehicle for new businesses stems from the low start-up costs and also the greater degree of flexibility. As she explained to us:

I think it would be possible for a woman who perhaps had responsibilities for young children but perhaps made jewellery or craft items to sell that on a market two or three mornings a week and fit that in with her family responsibilities. It would be possible for someone to work part-time on a market and pursue further training perhaps at a training college. In its flexibility, it actually fits in with people's changing views of how they work, how they pursue education through their life and things like that.[77]

The implication of our evidence is that, whilst the internet has opened up another avenue for small businesses, markets continue to play an important role. It is still sometimes easier to sell products through personal interaction, and sometimes customers want to see, touch, try on or smell the products before they buy. A number of current 'big names' such as Marks and Spencers (Leeds), Morrisons (Bradford) and TESCO (Hackney) started off in markets, and the suggestion is that markets remain a key source of retail innovation.

42. Finally on the job creation front, our witnesses and submissions also drew our attention to the extent to which markets also create ancillary jobs. Derby City Council noted that "there are ancillary employees—for example supplies, hospitality, security, delivery vehicles. There is ancillary work generated for local car and vehicle dealers and repairers by traders and suppliers."[78] Bolton Council observed that, in addition to over 300 small businesses at Ashburner St market, the market also provided "direct and indirect employment for over 500 people".[79]

43. Some markets, particularly large metropolitan markets, provide one last economic benefit, by providing profit for their local council. We were informed, for instance, that Bradford and Leicester markets each make an annual profit of some £500,000 for their respective councils. The importance of this profit should not be underestimated—not least because, in England, councils have relatively few ways of generating significant income.

The social benefits of markets

44. Although sometimes hard to disentangle from the economic benefits, two social benefit themes ran through our evidence. The first is that markets have an important role in supporting minority communities. Anne Coffey MP told us that:

Market traders come from a great diversity of backgrounds. In my market in Stockport we have longstanding traders and we have traders from a range of the ethnic communities. Often people who come to shop in towns come from a diversity of communities.[80]

Many of the ethnic minority traders sell ethnic food to their communities (and others) which would not be available elsewhere. During our visit to Ridley Road Market, we learned how it had a long history of supporting new communities—at the beginning of the 20th century, Ridley Road was a centre of the Jewish community. More recently, Asians, Greeks, Turks and West Indians had settled in the area, creating a more diverse market. Nick Rhodes, at Leicester Market, was similarly keen to emphasise that Leicester was a multi-ethnic city and it was important that the market reflected and took advantage of this. A number of submissions suggested that markets were a particularly accessible vehicle for ethnic minorities seeking to launch businesses. One of the most impressive was from Chelmsford Council which explained how, in October 2008, to celebrate Black History Month, the council offered:

[…] free stalls to traders selling goods such as Caribbean food, Indian food, black hair and beauty products. In addition, there was a programme of live music from a range of local black and minority ethnic groups (BME) music groups.[81]

Chelmsford further explained that, as a direct result of the event, "the Council's town centre management team was able to put one of the specialist traders in touch with the Council's inward investment team who helped them to locate suitable premises in Chelmsford from which to grow their business". They concluded that:

The Black history Month event served as a springboard for some BME traders to evaluate the potential of their business ideas, having benefited from a free market pitch on one of the busiest days of the year.[82]

45. A second social benefit highlighted to us is that markets can serve to promote social cohesion, encouraging different communities to inter-mingle and providing community support and information. A number of witnesses referred directly to the research paper written by Professor Sophie Watson, which concluded that:

  • Markets were important sites of social interaction for all groups in the community, but most significantly for older people, especially women. Markets were also important as social spaces for mothers with young children, young people, and families with children, particularly at weekends.
  • Markets had a significant social inclusion role, as places to linger, particularly for older people and young mothers. Some markets also appeared to be inclusive of disabled people, although in other places this was less evident.
  • The social life of traders played a significant role in creating a vibrant atmosphere in markets, and in forging social bonds and links in the trading community as well as with shoppers.[83]

The key point is that it is the unique atmosphere of the market, created by a combination of the traders, public and the effect of the social space itself, that generates the conditions for this vital social interaction. As a number of submissions and witnesses stressed, and as we witnessed first hand during our market visits, "the excitement, noise, smell, crowds (pizzazz)—does not exist elsewhere in UK retail."[84]

46. Markets thus provide a tremendous opportunity for local and central government, working with market traders and the industry, to foster community integration and to get messages and information across to hard to reach groups—such as the elderly and young people—who will be present at the market. As the research paper recognised, the market traders themselves are crucial. Much depends on them not simply to create the atmosphere, but also to see their role in the market in more than strictly economic terms. As market trader Chris Hurdman remarked to us, "in the communities that I do my markets in, I think sometimes I see myself as a bit of a social worker".[85] Professor Sophie Watson endorsed this view of market traders:

[…] market traders typically really look after their customers. It is an interesting role that they take on quite seriously themselves. They keep an eye out, if you like, for their customers and often provide advice or support. Lots of market traders, for example, will take a box of oranges back to some old lady's house who cannot come and get her oranges. It is surprising how much they do that [...] if you talk about the way in which market traders take responsibility for the community, I think in many areas they do.[86]

47. From the evidence we received, a number of councils are actively looking to exploit the wider social benefits of their markets. Professor Sophie Watson cited the example of Rotherham council, which allowed Age Concern to give out information and leaflets at one of its market stalls. She commented that "quite often the local authority will give over some stalls to local groups. I think that is one of their important roles in terms of making a community […]", emphasising that stalls offering information and advice are more likely to reach their intended recipients in markets because people are more likely to linger in them:

[…] normally people tend to rush past such things in the main High Street, whereas when it is in the market people are more likely to stop and have a look and perhaps talk to somebody about what is going on.[87]

Cllr Melvyn Teare from St Albans observed that his council encouraged "voluntary and charitable organisations really just to display what it is that they do and encourage volunteering in that kind of way",[88] and Chelmsford Council explained how it had used the market to "raise awareness of other Council initiatives to a wide audience",[89] for example an event held to celebrate Older people's Day in collaboration with Age Concern. "Proceeds from town centre trading pitch fees were used to pay for staging and sound for the event, which enable various older people's community groups to showcase their activities."[90]

48. Joe Harrison, Chief Executive, National Market Traders Federation, told us that

my organisation has been asked twice now by government departments to use markets and market traders to get across messages. One was in the education and skills, the adult numeracy and literacy skills, where the message was put across via the market traders to the public. A more recent one, which is to be launched in Dartford on 12 March, is the Pension Credit […][91]

A number of our witnesses felt that the Government could be doing more. When we put this to the Minister, he accepted that "I think we can be pushing that a lot more in terms of using markets, using places where people congregate to get important government messages across."[92]

Markets and regeneration

49. One wider benefit promoted by a number of witnesses was the potential for markets to assist in the regeneration of town centres. Markets can do this not only by encouraging footfall and fostering community cohesion, but also by creating a flexible public space, which can also support other uses. Anne Coffey MP told us:

When a market stall is not there, the market place is there and is maintained. You can have theatres, shows, entertainment. Again, it is giving the idea of this public space, which is a flexible public space, which sometimes is a market and sometimes is a place of entertainment.[93]

Councils that take advantage of the opportunity provided by the market place can add vibrancy to their town centres. Regeneration schemes that retain a central place for the market can similarly benefit, and there is evidence that current regeneration schemes have learned lessons from previous redevelopments which moved markets out from the town centre, a practice which frequently led to the decline both of the market and of the town centre. Current plans for Preston town centre, for instance, feature the market as one of the retail 'anchors'.

50. The Government also appears to have recognised the contribution that markets can make to the regeneration of town centres. The Minister commented that "one of the things I would be keen to explore with the Committee is to what extent this is all part of a wider, fundamental town centre strategy, because I think markets are intrinsically linked to town centres."[94] He pointed particularly to paragraph 2.27 of Planning Policy Statement 6, which sets out the Government's policy for town centre development. He further observed that "in terms of best practice, what I would like to see is local authorities having a vision for their town centres in which markets need to be a key consideration."[95] PPS6 is currently being revised and amalgamated with a number of other Planning Policy Statements, a matter which we consider in our forthcoming report Need and impact: planning for town centres.[96] That report expresses strong support for the Government's 'town centre first' planning policy and for the aim of creating vibrant, vital town centres. Markets can play an important role in achieving that aim. We discuss Government planning policy in more detail in a later section.

Markets and health

51. Markets can promote the Government's agenda on obesity and healthy eating. On one level, markets promote attainable healthy eating by offering a wider range of cheap food than is often available in supermarkets. On another, as the Retail Markets Alliance amongst others pointed out in its evidence, "in addition to providing access to fresh fruit and vegetables at cheaper prices than supermarkets, many markets are now using their role as 'community hubs' to promote healthy eating and lifestyles".[97] The Fresh Food Consortium, a trade association representing the spectrum of the fresh produce industry, further commented that "traditional retail markets can play a vital role in helping to encourage consumers of all ages to increase their consumption of healthy fresh produce, in particular women and families with lower incomes, both key target groups for the 5-a-day campaign."[98]

52. So, for example, Malcolm Veigas, Assistant Director (Community Services) Bolton Metropolitan Council, explained to us how his council was installing a demonstration kitchen into its indoor market which "will be used on a monthly basis to celebrate local communities and different foodstuffs". In addition, "we will be looking during the school holidays to use that venue to sample new school meal menus" and, working with the Bolton PCT, "we have an opportunity to invite people from deprived areas of Bolton to come in and, basically, do some domestic science on site—so flip a pancake, as we did on Pancake Tuesday."[99] Similarly, in its evidence, Darlington Council explained how, as part of "the active use of the markets to engage with the community", the NHS was sponsoring Food Festivals "to meet their agenda targets/aspirations."[100]

Markets and the environment

53. We have also heard how markets can be used to promote environmental issues. Again, there are a number of strands to this. Markets selling fresh, local food are, in contrast to the centralised distribution systems and air-freighting of non-seasonal foods practised by supermarkets, acting to reduce carbon emissions and 'food miles'. As Quarterbridge consultancy also pointed out, in contrast to the out of town locations with free parking favoured by supermarkets, "the town centre location of traditional markets and their predominantly local product sourcing is patently more environmentally-friendly."[101] A number of councils also told us how they were working to reduce waste, for example by reducing packaging and offering free bio-degradable bags in addition to one of the market's traditional roles of selling off stock that needs clearance.

54. The councils were keen not simply to act in an environmentally-friendly way, but also to advertise the fact, to help to educate the public. A number of markets are clearly proud of their environmental role. Bristol's St Nicholas market, for example, managed by Bristol City Council, was awarded the title 'Greenest market in the UK' by the National Market Traders Federation. The award recognised the market's work to:

  • recycle and dispose of food waste and other market waste, such as cardboard, paper and glass;
  • reduce food miles by encouraging local growers, suppliers and traders;
  • reduce packaging and plastic bags and promote the use of paper and cotton bags; and
  • boost the local economy by providing trading opportunities for local suppliers and shoppers.

Showing that Bristol is not alone in this, evidence from Bradford Council stated that:

[…] the Markets Services has introduced a range of initiatives reducing packaging and increasing waste recovery and recycling. The markets are significantly contributing towards two of the Government's national indicators on climate change—NI 185 & NI 186—by identifying means of reducing energy consumption at all of their properties and reducing mileage travelled for business across the district.[102]

Some farmers' markets also have a particularly strong environmental dimension, because of their even greater emphasis on local food. Their contribution is assessed in more detail in the next sub-section.

The contribution of specialist markets

55. Specialist markets, essentially farmers' markets and continental markets, are distinct from general traditional retail markets. They are different in a number of ways, but principally because they are occasional markets—it is unlikely that specialist markets would be sustainable on more than an occasional basis:

[…] nationwide once or twice a month at a fixed location is the limit of trading for each market to date[103]

because of their location and organisational structure:

Farmers' markets have developed from a grass-roots movement, organised differently from general markets, with no permanent market facilities […] They take place in town centres, secondary shopping areas, car parks, alongside farm shops, village halls. They are operated by a range of organisers, e.g.:

  • Producer-owned organisations
  • Specialist private operators
  • Local authorities
  • Voluntary groups[104]

and because they are themed markets: farmers' markets established by FARMA, for example, sell only local products produced by the stall holders.


56. Specialist markets can add a further dimension to the five benefits identified earlier: economic, social, regeneration, health and the environment. With regard to economic benefit, they provide an opportunity for farmers to sell their products direct, and attract new customers into town, increasing footfall. In its evidence, St Albans Council, for example, observed that "the farmers' market in St Albans has been running for over 7 years and continues to prove to be very popular and interestingly attracts in a different customer group to the normal street market."[105] Farmers' markets are particularly effective at attracting more affluent consumers—the AB socio-economic class—who may otherwise be less likely to frequent markets. FARMA estimated that across the UK, "farmers' markets contribute some £250 million into their local economies each year", and that they have helped to rekindle food production skills such as the development of artisan cheeses. As with other traditional retail markets "this is multiplied through increased local employment and use of local services by growing businesses".[106] Other evidence from the National Retail Planning Forum praised specialist markets for generating new business, raising the profile of markets and bringing in "many new and younger entrants into an industry that has a traditionally ageing population."[107]

57. Specialist markets do not, though, usually make a profit for the council. One tension between the older traditional retail markets and the newer specialist markets is that the former often make a profit for the council whilst the latter tend to be subsidised by the council. Often, they appear to be used as a kind of loss leader to bring people into the shopping centre. FARMA, in its evidence, estimated that in Brigg (Lancashire) "the number of people coming into town to shop on relevant Saturdays has increased ten-fold since the farmers' market began."[108] Jonathan Owen, of Quarterbridge Consultants, commented that "it can be a perfectly justifiable decision to subsidise continental markets to come into your town centre, possibly as part of a town centre promotion or events programme, to increase footfall in the town centre and that is a perfectly legitimate use of taxpayers' money […]".[109] Clearly, though, there are exceptions to the general rule—Cllr Melvyn Teare told us that St Albans farmers' market makes a profit for the council.

58. Finally, unlike general markets, specialist markets do not tend to offer cheap food for poorer communities. As Jonathan Owen explained:

I think farmers' markets, specialist markets are succeeding, but it is not day-to-day essentials which they are selling. The prices on most farmers' markets are considerably higher than on what I would call a general regular market. They are a destination, a leisure activity on a Saturday once a month or a Sunday once a month. They are not providing day-to-day necessities for most household shoppers.[110]


59. On the social benefits side, Gareth Jones, Managing Agenct, National farmers' Retail and Markets Association (FARMA) told us that:

[…] one of the factors farmers' markets have been very valuable in doing is bringing together the farmers and small scale producers into a marketplace where they can share common values. Being a farmer can be quite a lonely job and being able to come into the town and sell in a legitimate way has been a tremendous opportunity for many. The social cohesion of the rural part of many towns and market towns coming into cities has also been enabled through farmers' markets and is innovative territory.[111]

More widely, over the last decade specialist markets have helped bring a new vibrancy to the market scene, a new energy to town centres which some of the more tired older markets had lost the ability to generate. The key here, as explained to us by Joe Harrison, among others, is that they have been marketed as an event: "the whole atmosphere is an event atmosphere" that all markets historically generated, but which some older markets have now lost. For Joe Harrison, "farmers' markets to a degree are us reinventing the wheel because that was what markets were a thousand years ago; farmers bringing their products to market, selling their goods and creating a community."[112]

60. In its evidence, FARMA provided specific examples of farmers markets being "instrumental in bringing new life into a community"[113] in Stroud (Gloucestershire) and Brigg (Lancashire). In both locations, FARMA suggested, the town centre was in decline at weekends as people shopped at out-of-town supermarkets. "The farmers' markets have been instrumental in bringing people back into the town centre […]." FARMA also offered further evidence of a farmers' market playing a social cohesion role: Moseley farmers' market, established by Moseley Neighbourhood Forum (supported by Birmingham City Council) ploughs all proceeds from market stall fees back into community projects. Farmers' markets are not just important in rural areas. Tot Brill, Executive Director for Transport, Environment and Leisure Services, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, explained that:

In North Kensington, which is a very deprived area, access to fresh fruit and food is really important. The farmers' market we have set up was set up specifically at the initiative of local ward members to regenerate an area that was kind of dead at the weekends.[114]


61. A number of submissions also highlighted the important contribution that farmers' markets are making to environmental issues through their emphasis on the benefits of local produce sold locally. They are also playing an important role in the healthy eating agenda, not least by championing an interest in a range of good quality local produce, and encouraging people to take a greater interest in the food they are eating and where it comes from. Indeed, FARMA went so far as to assert that "farmers' markets have been the chief instrument of a change in the food culture in the UK over the past ten years."[115] This comment may slightly over-state the case, but nevertheless they have certainly played a significant role in promoting a greater interest in local, fresh food.

62. The distinct benefits provided by farmers' markets are clearly widely recognised. The Government has "provided funding, at both a national and regional level, under various grant schemes, to help establish and raise awareness of farmers' markets",[116] and we were told that "DEFRA officials meet regularly with representatives from FARMA to explore how we can work together on our common goals of reconnecting farmers to their markets and helping them to add value."[117] Indeed, if anything, the Government's submission over-emphasises the importance of farmers' markets, a small component of the whole markets sector, and raises questions as to whether a similar level of support should be extended to the rest of the market sector. We explore this further in a later section.


63. Though the benefits of farmers' markets are widely recognised, there is continuing tension over the position of farmers' markets within the markets sector. There is an ongoing debate about whether farmers' markets detract from or enhance older markets, and whether they can integrate with them, or should be separate from them. FARMA argued strongly in favour of keeping farmers' markets separate, arguing that their unique selling points are diluted when they are combined with older markets. As Gareth Jones put it to us, "we feel quite passionately that if you confuse [farmers' markets] with brought-in products [sold at ordinary markets] which could have come from any source whatsoever it makes the message we are delivering at farmers' markets not easy to pick out when you are walking through the market itself."[118] Patricia Grey, Fareham Town Centre Manager, also favoured separation, arguing that specialist and farmers markets "do not integrate with regular street markets, either from the traders' or the customers' perspective"[119], a point of view also endorsed by the Western International Market Tenants' Association.[120] Jonathan Owen pointed to a tension between ordinary market traders and specialist market traders arising from the subsidy of the latter by the council.

64. The National Retail Planning Forum (NRPF) also acknowledged that "there is a problem with the integration of new farmers markets within existing markets", suggesting that "often this is because of resistance from existing traders, such as in Leeds market or more often from the operators of farmers markets who want to retain a distinct identity".[121] The NRPF, though, drew a different conclusion, arguing that "with many markets in need of an injection of new traders and products, it probably makes sense to try and integrate new markets within existing structures where they exist."[122] Similarly, St Albans Council argued that "as long as there is a transparency as to what the specialist market is being charged and the rules and regulations are the same then the integration can be successful." For St Albans, integration on farmers' market days widens the attraction of the market, increases footfall and creates more 'linger longer' time. Crucially, "when there is an opportunity to combine the two together then the traditional market is opened to a new customer group."[123] Michael Felton added a caveat, observing that the regular market and farmers' market in St Albans were on opposite sides of the street, clearly near each other but with "no sign of integration".[124]

65. Other evidence also pointed to either the successful integration of the two types of market, or at least successful proximity. Vale Royal Borough Council felt that specialist markets need to be close to the existing regular market for both to benefit from increased footfall.[125] Derby City Council "believed that overall they [farmers' markets] do attract trade to the adjacent Market and bring in additional revenue for the Council as well"[126] and Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea councils were similarly relaxed, observing that farmers' markets in their localities were successful both in isolation and when integrated with an existing market. The latter observed that when an occasional farmers' market came to Portobello Road market "there was no objection from the Portobello traders to the specialty market because it filled unused space and increased footfall for the whole of the market.[127]

66. Available statistical evidence, though not conclusive, is supportive of integration. A survey undertaken by Action for Market Towns of their membership—market towns with a population of between 3,000 and 30,000—revealed that:

From the cohort that indicated their town held 'New' markets such as Farmers, Continental and Arts and Crafts, 54% stated that these had been successfully integrated with the older markets. Responses from the 41% who did not feel that the new markets had successfully been integrated centred on the lack of a previous market to integrate with and 'New' and 'Old' markets being operated in different locations.[128]

We see no reason why farmers' markets should not retain their identity within a larger 'ordinary' market, and can see advantages for both types of markets in terms of increasing footfall and creating more of an event feel. We recommend, therefore, that local authorities actively consider the benefits of co-location, though we accept that this may not always be appropriate.

67. A further source of tension between older markets and farmers' markets stems from the ability of local councils with Charter markets to prevent any other market—including occasional farmers' markets—from operating within a six mile radius. In its evidence Leicestershire Food Links Ltd, a not for profit social enterprise which runs five farmers' markets in Leicestershire, complained that "several councils and independent Charter holders within Leicestershire strictly operate Market Charters with or without Rival Markets Policies which stop new markets evolving."[129] Their main criticism was not that their applications were being turned down per se, but rather that the Charter fees proposed by the Charter-holding councils to sanction the creation of new occasional markets were prohibitively high. Their plea was for greater flexibility on behalf of councils to give them the opportunity to promote local food.

68. This source of tension was also acknowledged by other evidence, including the Government, which observed that "in a few areas, there have been tensions between supporters of farmers' markets and existing charter markets, with the former arguing, for example, that the existence of charter markets has prevented the establishment of a farmers' market in a particular town."[130] Although the Government's rather anodyne response to this issue saw "no reason why farmers' markets and charter markets cannot co-exist happily", as explained to us during our visit to Leicester by Leicester City Councillors there can be a problem of market viability when too many markets compete for custom in too small an area. They felt that the absence of Charter powers in London had led to the creation of too many non-viable markets there. We acknowledge that the use of market Charters to regulate market numbers is a complex issue, but believe that it is one that locally-elected councils are best placed to adjudicate on. We would though recommend that councils treat farmers' markets applications sympathetically given the potential benefits they can offer whether in proximity to existing markets or in isolation. We also recommend that account be taken of the status of the organisation wishing to run a farmers' market, and that consideration be given to reducing fees in the event that the organisation is a not-for-profit organisation with clearly articulated social goals.

56   All Party Parliamentary Markets Group, Markets Policy Framework 2007 Back

57   Ev 57 Back

58   Ev 118 Back

59   Q 155 Back

60   Ev 77 Back

61   Ev 132 Back

62   Q 154 Back

63   Ev 101 Back

64   As above. Back

65   Ev 129  Back

66   Ev 138 Back

67   Ev 59 Back

68   As above. Back

69   Ev 76 Back

70   Ev 101 Back

71   Ev 167 Back

72   Q 154 Back

73   As above. Back

74   Ev 118 Back

75   Q 207 Back

76   Q 261 Back

77   Q 12 Back

78   Ev 73 Back

79   Ev 119 Back

80   Q 8 Back

81   Ev 75 Back

82   As above. Back

83   Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Markets as Social Spaces Informing Change summary document for Markets as sites for social interaction study (2006) Back

84   Ev 67 Back

85   Q 135  Back

86   Q 47 Back

87   Q 40 Back

88   Q 230 Back

89   Ev 75 Back

90   As above. Back

91   Q 50 Back

92   Q 342 Back

93   Q 14 Back

94   Q 300 Back

95   Q 311 Back

96   Communities and Local Government Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, Need and impact: planning for town centres, HC 517. Back

97   Ev 97 Back

98   Ev 137 Back

99   Q 154 Back

100   Ev 58 Back

101   Ev 130 Back

102   Ev 107 Back

103   Ev 65 Back

104   Ev 100 Back

105   Ev 70 Back

106   Ev 157 Back

107   Ev 140 Back

108   Ev 156 Back

109   Q 174 Back

110   Q 170 Back

111   Q 58 Back

112   Q 64 Back

113   Ev 156 Back

114   Q 239 Back

115   Ev 150 Back

116   Ev 166 Back

117   Ev 167 Back

118   Q 63 Back

119   Ev 59 Back

120   Ev 62 Back

121   Ev 139 Back

122   As above. Back

123   Ev 70 Back

124   Ev 66 Back

125   Ev 76 Back

126   Ev 72 Back

127   Ev 132 Back

128   Ev 83 Back

129   Ev 134 Back

130   Ev 166 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 23 July 2009