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

Memorandum by Mel Hilbrown, Executive Director of St Albans Enterprise Agency and Director of St Albans Chamber of Commerce, writing in a personal capacity (MARKETS 03)


  1.  Last 10 or more years, some markets have become a shadow of their former lively, bustling selves eg Roman Road market in Bow London, which in the sixties was a large bustling market with a great selection of stalls, attracting people from a reasonable area, and now consists of a very few and down-at-heel that no-one would travel to visit. This may reflect the state of the local economy. Products have changed over time but the core of almost any market remains fresh produce at great prices—often stock needing clearance—in this sense markets help reduce waste. It is noticeable that in times of economic downturn in St Albans we are hearing reports of those who would have never 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. They are also a superb outlet for small entrepreneurs who otherwise would not be able to afford a shop-front. So several important social and environmental functions.

  2.  I suspect traditional markets are in decline—see above. Sometimes change in the local economy; sometimes lack of attention and support. Like any economic activity there is a vicious and a virtuous spiral. Without action, it is difficult to stop a decline once it starts; if things look good the markets will grow—look at the success of Farmers markets and visiting Continental markets. I suspect types of market are on the increase. Also the large Sunday markets (in Herts there is a massive one held at Bovingdon airfield).

  3.  The above comments would suggest not, but I do not have any broad view on this.

  4.  In St Albans there has not been a big problem for the traditional market from the continental markets.


  1.  Traditional markets are: i) a community focal point, creating a vibrant environment. ii) help with footfall in the City, increasing traffic for other retailers and coffee shops and cafes iii) an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to launch/test new ventures iv) a provider of low cost products often not generally available in the shops v) part of our heritage, many going back to the Middle Ages. An established market can be a major attraction, source of pride etc vi) they also involve walking in the fresh air which is probably a health benefit.

  2.  Qualities required are a stallholder-friendly environment/management, a good catchment area in terms of numbers/spending, a good space to operate on a reasonable scale, good public transport links, and other local attractions if possible. The issues are not massively different from those desirable for any retailer.


  1.  I would guess local government support for markets is variable. There are a number of areas of relevant support, including security issues, promotional issues and management issues—because markets are only a minor part of local government activity, it is easy for the management of this area to become someone's little fiefdom, where bureaucracy and exercise of control can take precedence over marketplace objectives and effectiveness. A market is not essentially that different from a shopping mall and needs a similar market-oriented focus.

  2.  I cannot see who else other than local authorities could operate a local market effectively.

  3.  I am not aware of any central government support for traditional markets. They are, however, part of our heritage and some support/promotion could be useful.

  4.  I am sure government could use markets to support social cohesion and health (they are open-air and get people used to wandering!). They might help regeneration, but successful markets are more likely to be an outcome of a broad regeneration package rather than a stimulus for it. They are commercial entities which must be commercially viable, not some social enterprise.


  1.  Not sure about impact of local planning.

  2.  Not sure about licensing regulations impact.

  3.  No view on this.

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