“Wrexham’s markets are an integral part of our economy” was the message in last night’s meeting on Wrexham’s three indoor markets, with a lukewarm reception over an arts centre move plan.
Addressing the Committee, Council Leader Neil Rogers stated he wants to make it perfectly clear that the markets in Wrexham are not closing and are key to Wrexham. Reference was also made to reports published in the press last February which implied that the future of Wrexham’s markets were under threat, and other local media reports focusing on disputes & negativity – for example ITV Wales in town today reporting a ‘row has broken out‘.
Cllr Rogers said: “The markets are not closing, I want to make that perfectly clear. We have no intention of closing the markets in Wrexham. We see the markets as an integral part of our economy.”
In a report presented to the Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee, a number of proposals that would essentially transform the three indoor markets were put before members of the Committee.
The report (PDF here on the Council’s website) contains findings by consultants Quarterbridge Project Management Ltd. Quaterbridge describe themselves as ‘specialist design and business planning advice for market owners, operators, traders and developers’. (You can read our summary of the report here)
Within the report are a number of suggestions for the three markets, however the main options have been summarised as the three below:
- Reduce the market operation in the People’s Market and introduce a cultural and arts based operation into the vacant space at an estimated capital cost of £1.4m
- Retain the Butchers’ Market as a market and make capital investment of £890k
- Refocus the General Market to provide restaurants and bars with a capital investment of £729k, creating a venue for the day time economy as well as further developing the evening economy.
Cllr Phil Wynn said: “To me what has been recommended is quite radical and it may not be the right decision for Wrexham at this moment in time, or ever for Wrexham. It might be aspirational to have a venue for food outlets and local produce, however I feel uncomfortable if it’s the right thing for Wrexham. I know that after 5pm in Wrexham it would be difficult to sustain it.
“Having met with market representatives, we share concerns that if we go out borrow to improve ambience in the Butchers’ Market, it does not it mean it will increase footfall that will put money in the till to pay for increased rents”
However concerns were raised from both Committee members and market traders who felt that the recommendations from the consultants did not provide the newly implemented marketing team, which has been widely praised, enough time to see if they could continue to improve the markets.
Head of Marketing and Promotions, Amanda Davies said: “It is not just me, there is a whole team and we have been given a job to do; and if it kills us we will turn the markets around. We spend a lot of time looking back, the markets will never be the same. The town centre will never be the same, we need to move to the future.
“It does not have to be radical changes, just working together can make a difference. Without a decision we are treading water. We have plans in place that we can’t do if the changes are going to happen, we are trying to do a job here. The markets can be good and we will turn them round. We need a decision or we will be here again in six months.”
An update of the occupancy / tenancy rates of the three markets was also provided, with only a handful of vacant stalls existing across the markets.
In total there are 49 stalls in the People’s Market, 33 of which are on a tenancy basis. Four of the stalls are vacant and there are 12 casual traders in the market. For the Butchers’ Market, there are 27 stalls in total, of which six are filled with casual traders and two stalls are vacant.
Of the 15 stalls in the General Market, 12 are occupied with tenancy. Along with this is there is one casual stall and two stalls vacant.
Amanda said: “One concern we do need to look at it the occupancy. It is healthy, but we need to convert the casual traders into tenancy. The markets are looking well.”
Rob Clarke from Mad 4 Movies in the Butchers’ Market said: “We don’t want to see any closed or changed. For years we had the feeling we had not been listened to by Council or management. We were cynical when the new management was announced and did not think anything would change.
“Amanda and the team have been on the case. What she has done in six months has convinced us that things do not need to be radical. She needs more time, it’s worth seeing what see can do with the Peoples Market before we write it off as a dud.”
A trader from the Peoples Market said: “Amanda has done so much, more than anyone in the last 10/12 years. Her feet have been kicked beneath her, she has so many ideas so give her a chance.”
Concerns were also raised that the lack of a coherent decision on the proposals for the Peoples Market would result in traders being in limbo for the next four to six months.
Described as ‘controversial’ by one Councillor, the proposals to introduce an arts / cultural centre to the Peoples Market was arguably the most debated topic of the evening.
Queries were raised as to whether the location is the best place for a cultural centre, with one market trader describing the proposal as like having ‘a leg on the end of your nose’. The trader added: “I do not know why you’d put an art gallery there, we need to get stalls there. We’re fed up of people coming up to us and asking when we are closing because of the press.”
Cllr Hugh Jones said: “We have secured Arts Council funding to evaluate an arts and cultural centre in Wrexham. It could be in a number of locations in Wrexham, we want to develop and improve what’s on offer along with increasing the footfall in the early evening.
“We didn’t pick it, this Committee wanted a report from experts. They came up with an option and what were doing is get experts partly funded by Arts Council Wales to have a look and see if it is viable. This is not just this building the experts will look at.
“We want to get this done as soon as possible and end the uncertainty. If there is an opportunity to improve the whole centre of Wrexham by bringing people in, we shouldn’t be afraid to explore those possibilities.”
Questions were also asked about alternative locations for the ‘Cultural Centre’, with Cllr Bill Baldwin asking if any information could be provided on what other buildings had been considered by the Arts Council.
Cllr Baldwin said: “What other buildings have the Arts Council looked at? Was it at TJ Hughes as four men have been seen in there.”
However Cllr Jones was unable to comment on what buildings had been considered.
When it came to the vote there were times when it felt as though the conversation and debate was going round in circles. At one point Chairman Cllr Skelland asked the committee if they knew what it was they were voting for, just before another Councillor asked for a ‘point of clarity’ on the recommendations.
With regards to the General and Butchers’ Market, a vote to ‘Continue to invest future revenue income as agreed by Executive Board February 2013. However the confusion began when it came to Councillors voting for the recommendations for the Peoples Market.
The first recommendation in the consultant’s report is to ‘Support the implementing feasibility study funded by VVP (Vibrant and Viable Place) & Arts Council to consider criteria of Arts/ Culture centre in Wrexham town centre’. Given that the Executive Board voted last month to pass the recommendations of the Vibrant and Viable Places (including moving the Oriel Gallery), this recommendation is already under way to some extent.
In the end the Committee passed a vote (five in favour, one against and two abstentions) to continue with strategy of slow investment as agreed by Executive Board February 2013.
This recommendation had an added proviso of: “If the Exec Board decide Peoples Market is chosen as an arts centre, an obligation is placed on the Council to work with Peoples Market traders to find an alternative and better location for them to trade and to be consistent with the other two.”
The recommendations will go before the Executive Board at a later date. In the meantime, as always we recommend visiting the Wrexham markets to do some shopping, if you don’t already!
There is an ongoing Market discussion on our forums. You can take part in the debate or view the comments here…