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

Memorandum by St Albans District Council (MARKETS 06)


  1.  St Albans is a city rich in heritage, with evidence of the pre-Roman, Roman, medieval and the modern forming a continuous link between the past and present. The town first appeared as Verlamion, an Iron Age settlement whose name may mean "the settlement above the marsh". The river, still known as the Ver, runs through the city. The inhabitants traded with the Romans for many years before the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43. Verulamium, along with the towns of Colchester and London, was ransacked in the Boudiccan uprising of AD 60/61.

  2.  It was rebuilt with many fine buildings including public baths, a theatre, temples, large privately owned town houses with under floor heating and, from the 3rd century, town walls. The town grew to be the third largest in Britain before gradually falling into decline after AD 400. The site of the Roman town of Verulamium lies beneath modern Verulamium Park. The ruined buildings of Verulamium were exploited to build the new market town of St Albans.

  3.  The St Albans of today is based on the medieval town which grew up around the Abbey. The medieval street pattern can still be experienced and many of the original buildings remain. The market has continued in use since these early times and contributes to the lively atmosphere. The Abbey was fundamental to the layout of the new town. The economic basis of St Albans in medieval times was as a market town, catering for travellers and pilgrims. Many inns grew up around the Abbey. The Abbots created the Market Place and St Peter's Street in the 12th century in a deliberate attempt to create the economic heart of the new town.

  4.  St Albans market today is one of the most colourful and vibrant street markets in the South of England. With over 170 stalls on Wednesdays and Saturdays, it offers everything from fish to fancy goods so customers are spoilt for choice. Our market is steeped in History with a special Royal Charter granted in 1553. However, the market is well documented as far back as the 9th century.

  5.  The current day market is operated by St Albans District Council and is firmly established in the city centre and runs the length of St Peters Street offering an excellent shopping experience to compliment the established retail stores, such as British Home Stores, Next, T.K. Maxx and Boots plus many more.

  6.  The market itself is almost unique in the diversity of goods it offers and attracts traders from as far away as Nottingham, Birmingham, and the extreme Southeast of Kent as well as closer to home. With up to 60% of our traders being here for 20 years or more you can be assured that the standard of service will match the diversity and quality of goods available. At Christmas additional markets are provided, allowing continuous trading for at least seven days in the run up to Christmas.

  7.  St Albans also supports a regular Farmers Market, on offer as a 65 stall market each 2nd Sunday in St Peters Street, as a 50 stall market in Harpenden on the 4th Sunday and 36 stall market in Wheathampstead on the 3rd Sunday.

  8.  On occasions a continental market is allowed to trade in the city centre to complement the Charter Market. These are either traders from France or Italy. These are normally for a three day period every three months. St Albans has also run an Art and Craft market in conjunction with the Farmers market. As part of the St Albans festival a Street market of over 100 stalls is created for all the local voluntary and sports organizations to market and promote their activities. This is done using the same layout and stalls for the Saturday Market.

  The Committee's inquiry will focus on the following questions:


How has the picture changed over the last 10 years?

  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.

  In St Albans we have been able to maintain a full trading Saturday market. The Wednesday market has been more difficult to maintain the numbers we had 10 years ago.

  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.

  With the onset of Internet shopping and more supermarkets offering a wider range of goods, the traditional retail market has increased competition.

  Out of town shopping centres provide free and easy access parking, existing town centre parking is usually paid for at a premium rate or entirely prohibited. Free parking being a major attraction to the public no looking for change, no time spent backwards and forwards to the car to put the parking ticket on and no time limit with £30 fine for staying later.

Are the number and types of markets in decline? If so, why?

  Yes although there are more different types of markets being created in the development of local Farmers markets over the last five years. Although the number of traders available to undertake this type of business I believe is on the decline. Not many people are attracted to take up market trading as a full time living. Many who do take up market stalls are probably doing it on a part time basis generating additional income through other work, or using the stall as a temporary shop front for booked work—such as curtains, blinds, bespoke furniture or craft work.

Are there obstacles preventing the creation of more markets?


Are there obstacles hindering the successful business of existing market operators and traders?

  Success is usually defined by how much money can be made from trading on the market stall and how the business can be developed. Many years ago the market stall was the first opportunity for business for such entrepreneurs as Allan Sugar, Jack Cohen (TESCOS) and Marks and Spencers It is the Internet which offers that opportunity now. Each stall holder has to ensure the same level of Health and Safety, Public Liability Insurance, returns policy and other requirements which are demanded of a retailer in a permanent building. The significant difference for the Market trader is having to bring in their goods and set up their shop in the morning when they trade and take it down and remove it from the market site in the evening when they close.

What has been the impact of specialist markets eg continental and farmers markets, and do such markets integrate successfully with older markets?

  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. It is about widen the attraction of the Market, increasing footfall and creating more "linger longer" time. The farmers market in St Albans has been running for over seven years and continues to prove to be very popular and interestingly attracts in a different customer group to the normal street market. When there is an opportunity to combine the two together then the traditional market is opened to a new customer group.


What social and economic effects do traditional retail markets have on their local communities?

  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

    (vii) They provide an opportunity for street entertainment.

    (viii) Provides opportunity for special environmental fairs.

What qualities contribute to a successful market delivering social and economic benefits, and are there examples of best practice that have a wider application?

  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.

  Our successful Farmers market has transferred to other locations in our district using a tried and tested format devised in the St Peter Street location. The stalls have been used for Carnival and Festival markets for voluntary organisations to promote their activities.


Does local government support markets effectively?

  This Council supports the provision of Markets very effectively and is keen to look at ways in expanding the offer which is available.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of local authorities having powers to operate markets?

  In the right environment a good street market is an asset to any town as it is a social day out for many and also brings trade to the permanent shops as well as the market itself. Local authorities have different priorities to consider. Private operators are primarily concerned with profits and have been known to turn a blind eye to illegal trades and bad practice.

Does central government support markets effectively? If not, what additional support should be provided?

  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.

Could central government make better use of markets to achieve national goals, particularly with regard to social cohesion, health and regeneration?

  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.

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