In January, Leeds’s Kirkgate Market was celebrating after being voted the best in the business.
The historic market took the title of Britain’s Favourite Market at the Great British Market Awards.
It’s worth noting the comments from the time of the Government’s High Street Minister Marcus Jones: “Markets are a vital part of Britain’s bustling high streets,” he said. “They are the test beds for entrepreneurs starting out in the trade and the heartbeat of communities across the country.’
Then, cut to Leeds councillor Richard Lewis, ref the same story: “Kirkgate is a fantastic market and one that many people in Leeds treasure. The market is full of characters that give it charm and atmosphere and I am sure they are all delighted with this well-deserved result”.
All wonderful, glowing words. But the reality? Visit the market today, speak to its traders, and a you’ll hear entirely different opinions - ones where the words are choicer and, on occasions, bitter and cutting. Traders are frustrated that the council’s 20 per cent rent reduction - offered to compensate them for a loss of trade during the mammoth Victoria Gate works - has come to an end.
That was always the deal. In fact the local authority has previously extended the rent reduction scheme.
But is it fair now to reimpose it when business is demonstrably suffering while the development work continues? Perhaps a deal to extend further until Victoria gate is up and running would be fair.
That said, the real issue here is one of market profitability.
This historic venue must be presented and marketed anew to draw in fresh trade when the revamp of this part of the city is trumpeted from the rooftops. It has to be part of the package. Victoria Gate presents a huge opportunity.
For the phrase ‘use it or lose it’ might be cliched, but it certainly applies here.
Otherwise the words of Marcus Jones MP and our own Councillor Lewis, spoken just a matter of months ago, will start to feel very hollow indeed.