A full refurbishment of Wrexham’s two indoor markets is still on the ‘wish list’ – however full improvements will be unable to take place until the money is available, councillors were told this week.
On Monday Wrexham.com reported that members of Wrexham’s Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee were to receive and update on the ongoing plans to improve the General and Butchers Market.
The report comes as a result of a Strategic Asset Management Plan 2016-21 (SAMP), a ‘critical appraisal’ of the three town centre indoor markets, 24 retail shops and the outdoor Monday market. Published in April 2016, the SAMP outlined a potential five year strategy to improve the aesthetic and offering of Wrexham’s indoor markets.
It is estimated that over the next five years, to comprehensively refurbish the property to an overall standard that would be considered excellent, in the region of £128,000 for the General Market and £290,000 for the Butchers Market would need to be spent.
Just over a year later and there have been a few changes to Wrexham’s markets, including the refurbishment of two key perimeter stalls in the Butchers Market, the installation of new fire alarms and repairs to the walls and flooring in the Butchers Market cafe.
The biggest change of all is the redevelopment work which has begun at the Peoples Market, which along with the associated South Mall shops, has been excluded from the SAMP update.
The report presented to councillors this week noted that it had been “difficult to progress with the SAMP over the past 12 monthly due to a reduced income levels which in order to cover overall expenditure for the 3 markets during 2016/17 resulted in an overall overspend of £45,000.”
Speaking at this week’s meeting regeneration manager at Wrexham Council, Rebeccah Lowry explained that the action plan put together last year wasn’t necessarily guaranteed, but was a wish list of things to work with traders if funding allowed.
She added: “We have moved seven traders from the Peoples Market to the Butchers Market during the period of reconstruction. It was agreed and discussed that there would be concessions.
“Although it looks more vibrant, we’ve had people reporting good trade and most stalls are occupied. However it isn’t giving a true income figure as not all are paying full rent.
“The figures are not what we would like to be reporting, in future years we would like 100% occupancy and have surplus to invest.”
Some new councillors appeared surprised at the market’s funding model, that there is ‘no budget’ and therefore if there is a surplus after repairs, maintenance and the like there is investment. This year has seen a surplus of £55k which is being reinvested.
As we noted much of the near £400k wishlist is subject to external funding, and at the meeting funding was described as a ‘sticking point’.
Cllr Dana Davies queried elements of budgets and the projection model, pointing out that the committee had previous had traders attend who were told that a programme of work would take place, yet such work was reliant on the income line to fund and deliver on the promises.
The meeting was told that repairs and maintenance are carried out regardless however further improvements to the markets cannot be carried out unless the surplus / money is available.
Questions were also asked about footfall within the two markets, with information provided within the meeting report seemingly conflicting with the views of some market traders.
Cllr Marc Jones noted that he had been contacted by one trader specifically about a decline in footfall – with concerns that a closure of long-standing market stall could further exacerbate a drop in trade.
Cllr Jones said: “I feel we are in a better place than maybe nine years ago when we first started talking about this and the markets weren’t getting any attention from the council.
“In terms of long-standing traders closing in the past two weeks, a lot of other traders are concerned about the future due to a drop-off in trade. That goes against your report and our perception that things have improved because of a concentration.
“The trader also has concerns about the marketing and the way the town centre going. We can’t see markets in isolation, but we see markets as a core of the town and a unique component of the town.
“To what extent are we marketing? We have got an asset here. Are we telling people sufficiently what is new and what is on offer?”
Amanda Davies, town centre and marketing and promotions manager, told the meeting that the single trader moving was due to specific circumstances and would not be discussed in a public meeting.
Tackling the question of promotion a 12 month radio advert on Heart was referenced, which promotes not just the markets but encourages new market traders.
A statistic of 77,000 people counted in Wrexham town centre in a recent week was noted, with the aim to attract more people to town and more into the markets themselves.
Ms Davies also pointed out that there has to be work from traders themselves to help generate footfall, referencing the half day opening as being possibly problematic, but was open to new ideas suggesting those with such plans should get in touch.
Cllr Skelland, who was Chairman of the meeting, observed he was unconvinced by previous appearances and assurances by Cllr Hugh Jones as the cost to move traders was not covered by contingencies in the arts hub project budget, “All those contingencies should have and would have built in to budget. Market traders are basically subsidising free stalls for people moved from the Peoples Market.”
Follow a theme on being evidently unhappy at how the Peoples Market conversion took place, later Cllr Skelland chuntered that ‘good plans’ for the Peoples Market were in place but ‘the arts hub threw all that in the air’.
Cllr Atkinson queried the marketing budget of £20,000 which when compared to income of the markets was described as ‘massive’, and also enquired if extra training on social media was being offered to traders.
Ms Davies pointed out that was a best case budget scenario, and the reality of the figure was £5k, but that could increase if incomes increase.
Business support schemes and social media courses were detailed as being offered to traders, but it was noted although some traders engaged others were reluctant.
The meeting was told that performance measuring was quite vague without a measurement mechanism, that the footfall increase was based on ‘perception’ after the move from the Peoples Market when the Butchers Market and General Markets were then fuller, however now with emails and conversations with traders revealed by Councillors such a perception could have changed.
Cllr Atkinson suggested joining up with Wrexham Glyndwr University tourism students to monitor footfall and related projects. The meeting was told such a link up was underway with two sets of students from the tourism and media courses.
Ms Davies picked up on the point over footfall to say that January to March ‘is traditionally a really hard time for traders’, and that income to traders is the measure that they felt was most important, “We need to look at what traders are selling, if people are coming in and not buying, it is different.”
Cllr Skelland interjected saying he thought WiFi and internet trading was a priority for ‘modern markets’, and queried why in 2017 there was no internet connectivity in the town’s markets.
Traders will be delighted to have heard WiFi is an ‘absolute priority’ for 2017.
Great news for traders in Butchers / General Market – firm commitment wifi is ‘absolute priority’ to get installed ‘this year’ !
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) July 18, 2017
Cllr Sonia Tyger Benbow-Jones enquired over what profiling of potential customers was taking place, adding: “I come in to town with aim and objective, do that and leave. We need to expose people to the shopping opportunity.”
The meeting was told by Ms Davies about an ongoing study where profiling is taking place, with various footfall counting allowing data for per day level information being collated since October.
Cllr Atkinson asked if Wrexham Council if there was a ‘strategy to discourage as well as encourage’ in place for prospective traders, to shape markets with specific goods and services.
Cllr Atkinson was told by council officer: “We are more likely to promote positive aspects of people we want, so more of what we do than do not, but we always do want to try and accommodate a trader.”
Another added: “We are trying to attract perishable goods so people come in on daily basis, rather than say furniture which is purchased less often. With full markets it is easy to be selective.”
Cllr Terry Evans, the Lead Councillor presenting the report, wrapped up the debate saying he had visited various areas of the town centre and was ‘frustrated’ by elements of it, however felt “very confident things will change over the next 12 months”, adding “we are going in the right direction.”
Cllr Evans rounded off by giving his own take on the comments on social media workshops not attended or engaged with by all traders: “I know what PR is like, we have Twitter and Facebook, and we have to show these market traders the skills on how to do it. In business you have to make the business work yourself.
“You can’t go to the Council ‘my business not going very well’, you have to fight for it, we will be here to help though. I’m sure inside 12 months will see a big difference.”
There were no representatives from the markets at the meeting, with a markets rep giving last minute apologies. There was some confusion as a letter from the rep with some recommendations was apparently sent to the Chair of the meeting, yet he was unaware and said he had not had a copy.
The committee was due to see a report in a year, however many members thought more urgent progress was required so six months was suggested. Due to the process of report collating and writing taking a month or two, such a period would only mean four months of information – so a happier medium of a report in March 2018 was agree upon.