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

Annex 3: Committee visit to two London Markets


1. Dr Phyllis Starkey MP, Sir Paul Beresford MP, Mr Clive Betts MP, Anne Main MP, Dr John Pugh MP and Emily Thornberry MP represented the Committee on a visit to Ridley Road and Chapel markets to meet market traders and Council market organisers as part of the Committee's inquiry into traditional retail markets. The Committee's two Specialist Advisers for this inquiry, Professor Alan Hallsworth and Professor Sophie Watson, also participated.


2. The Committee met Hazel Simmonds, Assistant Director for Safer Neighbourhoods, Hackney Council; Paul Viner, Market Inspector, Hackney Council; Larry Julian, Chair, Ridley Road Market Traders Association; and, Jon Giovanni, Vice Chair, Ridley Road Market Traders Association, at Ridley Road Market, and they escorted the Committee round the market. Jon Perriton, Field Manager, National Market Traders Federation (NMTF), was also present.

3. Larry Julian explained that his family had been market traders for 4 generations—though he said that his kids were not involved. He explained the history of the market—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. He observed that there were some vacant pitches, but this was partly because the Council wanted to retain a variety of stalls and, in particular, an emphasis on selling a diverse range of food, and would rather have vacancies than too much of the same non-food goods. The Association wanted a fully populated market with no vacant pitches, but wanted the council to try harder to bring in differing trading commodities. The Association believes that the high number of empty pitches is a key factor contributing to Hackney Council making a loss on the market, and thinks the shortfall could be considerably lessoned if the Council made a more positive contribution to promoting the market. A licensing panel vets prospective entrants, with the Council having the final decision. There are currently 181 pitches at Ridley Road, of which 120 are permanent, with the rest issued to casual traders on a daily basis. The occupancy rate varies from 60% to 99% depending on the season.

4. Larry Julian felt that the rules and regulations for London markets were stricter than elsewhere in the country, and wanted market traders to have more flexibility, for instance with regard to the hours they had to spend manning their stalls—currently, market traders at Ridley Road market must be at their pitch for 51% of a working day. He considered that the lack of flexibility and increased competition from supermarkets and the internet was contributing to a decline in Ridley Road market. He did acknowledge though that Council commitment had improved. Jon Giovanni, who runs a curtain stall and has been trading at Ridley Road market for 20 years, added that advertising was the key to bringing more people into the market. Ridley Road Market Traders' Association would strenuously oppose any changes to the London Authority Act which results in councils having the powers to make changes that take away the controls, processes and security that traders require.

5. Hazel Simmonds informed the Committee that Ridley Road Market was the largest and most successful of 5 Markets run by Hackney Council—the others being Broadway Market, Hoxton Market, Kingsland Waste Market, and Well Street Market. She paid tribute to the Ridley Road Market Traders Association for keeping the market going through difficult and changing times when markets had not been a Council priority. She explained that Hackney Council was now committed to improving market facilities, and had allocated £1M for an upgrade including resurfacing, improving drainage and repairing the electricity supply. The Council was consulting market traders to ensure that the upgrade met their needs. She observed that keeping the market clean was a big challenge—street markets naturally generate a significant volume of waste, and some surrounding shops also attempted to freeload on market waste disposal arrangements. She said that Ridley Road market had always been famous as a food market—and was now selling an eclectic mix of foods from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. The Council wanted to retain this character.

6. The Committee walked through the market, meeting traders. Tuesday was one of the quieter market days, but the Committee was still able to see an impressively diverse range of products. The Committee heard from some casual traders who were angry about the way they were treated. They were particularly aggrieved that they were not allocated pitches until 9.30am, and that they were allocated different pitches on different days so regular customers did not know where to find them.


7. The Committee moved on to a meeting at Hackney Town Hall with Cllr Alan Laing; Hazel Simmonds, Assistant Director, Safer Neighbourhoods; and Sarah Haywood, Head of Internal and External Communication.

8. Hazel Simmonds gave a presentation to the Committee, observing that markets was a small part of her brief, but a large part of her time. She explained that the Council had conducted a public consultation exercise and produced a "Living in Hackney" scrutiny report in 2005, which had identified a number of issues for markets—in particular residents wanted the markets to be cleaner, safer and more accessible. The Council had appointed an Assistant Director to drive forward improvements. Market management had since been strengthened. Certain "dodgy practices" had been stopped (eg Health and Safety issues over the selling of bush meat, and lack of transparency over awarding of new licenses to trade), and relations with market traders improved. She explained that much had already been achieved, including better communication (the council held quarterly and annual meetings with market traders, and communication between Market Inspectors and Traders was much better), a tightening up on criminal behaviour and better traffic management. The Council had imported a "points" system from Islington to tighten up on market trader behaviour, and had also committed to spending more money on its markets, through a 5 year Market strategy that would further improve all its markets

9. Hazel Simmonds accepted that there remained some tensions between traders and the Council, particularly over proposed rent increases—she said that Hackney rents for permanent and temporary pitches were currently the cheapest in London, and that as a consequence the borough was experiencing a shortfall between the costs of running a market (including, for instance, waste disposal, which the Council had worked hard to improve), and fees received from permanent and casual licenses. The Council wanted to raise rents to help pay for the market. The Council also wanted to vary the rent charged by size and location of stall. She observed that the 51% rule—see above paragraph 4—was to prevent sub-letting, but that the council was prepared to be flexible up to a point. She felt that Hackney's provisions for casual traders—e.g. allowing them to trade in popular pitches when not in use by permanent traders—compared favourably with other London authorities. She ended by observing that there was a big difference between the regulations governing London street markets, like Ridley Road market, and the high profile privately-run Borough market—which was not a street market and was not subject to the same regulatory framework.

10. In general discussion, the Hackney Cllr and officials stressed that they recognised the benefits of markets—for example tackling worklessness, meeting the needs of a diverse population and promoting social interaction. But finance was a problem as they were not breaking even, but were finding it difficult to put up prices. They drew attention to the London Local Authority Act, which regulates London street markets, noting with frustration the extent to which it prevented change by:

protecting stall holders' tenure

preventing councils from making a profit, or building up a fund to reinvest in the market to make service improvements for both traders and customers

preventing councils from handing over the running of street markets to a private operator—as street markets took place on a public highway, councils had a duty to regulate.

They were positive about their improvement plans, though frustrated by delays to Ridley Road improvements caused in part by the need to align them with other regeneration in the area, itself linked to the East London Line extension. They were keen to promote their markets more, but noted that funding was again an issue. They felt that, London Local Authorities Act notwithstanding, consideration could be given as to whether markets could be managed more effectively at arm's length from the council.

11. The Committee asked the Council to write specifically on what it would like to change about the London Local Authorities Act, and the Council undertook to do so. The Committee thanked Hackney council for organising the visit to the market, and taking the time to discuss Hackney markets with them.


12. The Committee made the short journey to Islington to meet Councillor Terry Stacy, Deputy Leader of the Council and Executive; Jan Hart, Assistant Director of Public Protection and Development Management; Christine Lovett, Angel Town Centre manager; David Fordham, Service Manager (street trading and trading standards); and Houriye Dervish, Street trading manager.

13. Islington Council explained that Chapel Market—which the Committee was subsequently to visit—is one of 3 street markets managed by Islington council (the others being Whitecross Market and Exmouth market), and the largest. It is a general market, ethnically-diverse, selling all types of goods and foods in the street of the same name. It opened in 1879, and currently has 160 designated pitches with around 105 licensed traders. It is also part of a Business Improvement District. Councillor Stacy stressed that the Council recognised the community role played by its markets, and was proud of the special history of Chapel Market. It was also pleased by the success of the much newer Farmers' Market at a local primary school.

14. Jan Hart explained that Islington's street trading strategy recognised the importance of markets to residents. Markets encouraged people to shop locally for good, cheap food—this was important as although Islington is considered an affluent borough it has the sixth highest level of social deprivation in the country, and one of the lowest car ownership rates in the country. The Council was actively working with other agencies to improve its markets and develop their potential to meet wider Council objectives. For example, Transport for London had supplied street furniture, and the Council was working with the local PCT to promote healthy eating by giving food demonstrations at the market. The strategy has identified a number of key action areas:

Look and feel of our Markets

Running Viable Markets

Promoting our Markets

Greening our Markets

Markets within our Community

Managing our Markets

As with Hackney—which had taken best practice from Islington—Islington Council's management of its markets includes vetting prospective traders to ensure that standards and diversity are maintained, specifying that traders must be on duty 51% of the working day to stop sub-letting and arrangements for casual traders. Unlike Hackney, Islington's markets were not running at a loss.

15. Again as with Hackney, Islington Council would like to change the London Local Authority Act which, with regard to markets, was felt to be too restrictive and too complex. Unlike Hackney, Islington was not keen on using a private market manger to run their markets, fearing that a private market manager would not share the same principles.

16. The Committee asked the Council to write specifically on what it would like to change about the London Local Authorities Act, and the Council undertook to do so. The Committee thanked Islington Council for organising the visit and taking the time to discuss Islington markets with them.


17. The Committee walked through the market, meeting traders. Although there were a number of empty pitches, the traders the Committee spoke to were, on the whole, upbeat about the market's prospects. They did stress that advertising was important, and felt that the Council could do more here. They were though positive about their relationship with the Council, with whom the traders' association held regular meetings.

18. This concluded the Committee's visit to London markets.

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Prepared 23 July 2009