Leeds Kirkgate Market traders speak out after council's shipping container food village plan leaves them blindsided
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Leeds City Council went public with the idea earlier this month, citing a decline in the number of stalls and traders operating in the open market. It said the proposed food village aims to be as “complementary as possible to the market” while boosting revenue.
But the news blindsided traders, many of whom said they only learned about the idea after the council’s Executive Board had declared it a "win-win" for the city and the market.
Mohammed, who did not want to give his surname, has run a clothing stall at the open market for more than 32 years. He said he learned about the proposals from media coverage, adding: "They’re supposed to tell us. We feel like they don’t consider us. Our opinions don’t matter. They just do what they want."
Shaun Dolan, whose family has run a fruit and vegetable stall for 80 years, said it was just another example of poor communication from the council. He said: "We don’t see our market manager. We don’t see the councillors who are going on about how quiet or busy the market is. They never come down to talk to us. And we are here all of the time – through rain, snow, freezing cold or red hot."
After the council meeting, one of the traders took it upon themselves to set up a survey to ask what other stallholders thought. Traders told the Yorkshire Evening Post that two days after the results were shared with the council, the local authority started a consultation of its own.
Many remain sceptical about how seriously their feedback will be taken. Michelle Hocken, of Hayes Seafood, said she was extremely disappointed with the council’s approach and thinks its survey is "nothing more than a box-ticking exercise".A council spokesperson said: "Much of the initial feedback we have received on the plans has been positive, but the ongoing consultation process will let us build up a fuller picture of people’s views. It should be stressed that no decision has been taken on whether to press ahead with the proposals, with the findings of the consultation due to be considered by the council’s Executive Board in February."
They added that "every effort” was made to tell traders about the plans before the announcement and appointed outdoor trader reps are welcome at market management board meetings at any time.
Although the council said much of the feedback had been positive, traders told the YEP of concerns including how the large shipping containers might hide the open market stalls from view.
Shaun was also doubtful that customers drawn to the food village would spend money at stalls such as his. "If you’re coming out for a meal or a drink, you don’t want to come and buy apples for a quid," he said. "Having another drinking place is not gonna help us. It’s a family environment and if there's rowdiness, you're not going to come down the market."
It’s not just the open market traders who are feeling anxious. Some indoor food hall traders fear they will lose customers to the businesses that set up in the new food village.
Sengy Tang, owner of the Vietnamese food stall Banh and Mee, said: “Traders are not against change. Concepts like these are all around the UK and they do work. I just don’t think this is the right location for it – next to a food hall – but it would be good for Leeds.”
Bart Prazmowski, who owns the Teapot drinks stall, is more on the fence about the proposal, conceding that the food hall itself was once a controversial idea too. He said: “It could potentially bring crowds in and some passive foot traffic may flood in which might be good for us.”
The council’s views is that changes have to be made to increase the number of visitors to the market if its future is to be protected. Its spokesperson said: "We are proud of the work we have done and continue to do to ensure Leeds Kirkgate Market remains one of the jewels in our city’s retail crown.
"As part of that work, it is important for us to explore imaginative new ways to make the best use of all the market space – particularly at a time when the council, like many other local authorities nationwide, is facing significant financial challenges.
"Should the proposed food village get the go-ahead, then the increase in footfall as well as the income it would generate would help safeguard the long-term future of the outdoor market.”
Some traders think the solution to the market’s challenges is far simpler, suggesting investment in the existing facilities and more affordable rents would attract new stallholders and, in turn, shoppers.
Fruit and vegetable trader Christopher Richmond said: “All these plans they keep coming out with will not change things. Instead, give cheap rent and get this place filled up. This used to be the busiest market in the UK and it’s just going down.”
Another open market trader, who did not want to give their name, added: “They need to spend a little money doing the stalls up, making them waterproof so that when it rains, your stuff isn’t ruined. You have John Lewis on one side and then you have this freezing dump.”
While the council says market representatives can attend management board meetings at any time, trader Lisa Stebbings said she believed they were no longer invited.
Having acted as a market rep herself for five years previously, she said: “We have put forward so many ideas. They need to listen to the traders and they need to listen to the public. If they listened to those two, the market would run itself.”