Hackney Council is to make much-needed changes to the way it runs the borough’s street markets after an external report found that they had been in decline since 1997, and that the markets’ management in recent years had been “haphazard and uncoordinated.”
The report, drawn up over two years, considered Hackney’s five licensed street markets – Ridley Road, Hoxton, Broadway, Well Street and Kingsland Waste. It compared these markets to ten other London markets with a view to learning how to improve the performance of those in Hackney.
The £30,000 study examined in depth all aspects of the five markets’ existence, including their environments, choice and variety available to shoppers, stall and product presentation, catchment areas, shopper profiles and visitor patterns and staffing, and obtained first-hand views from market-goers.
Overall, the report found that there is clear room for improvement in the markets’ ability to provide economic and community benefits within Hackney. Well Street was deemed to be “no longer fit for purpose”, with an average of just two stalls and zero signage, and the report suggested trading at Kingsland Waste market be reduced for six months in order to stem anti-social behaviour there.
The cost of running Hackney’s street markets was discovered to be far greater than the council’s income from them, with a deficit of £1.2 million budgeted in the markets account. From April 2011, charges are to rise to bring fees in line with other London markets, after it was found that there had been no increase since 1996, and that inflation had not been accounted for.
Many of the negative findings in the report appeared to be down to poor management historically on the part of Hackney Council. “There has been little continuity in the management of the markets which has resulted in a haphazard and uncoordinated approach to all aspects of their management,” the report said. “The current state of the markets would suggest that Hackney Council is either unable to or ineffective at managing its markets either at a strategic or tactical level.”
A Council spokesperson said in response: “Hackney Council is introducing a long-term strategy to help its markets become successful and sustainable in the long-term. Through a three-year programme of investment in improvements as well as a new strategy for managing Hackney’s markets, the Council aims to encourage more trade on more days of the week.
“The Council recognises the need to provide more effective management to deliver this plan, which was drawn up following extensive consultation with local residents and market traders, and sets out an approach to encourage more customers and traders to the markets by making them cleaner and more attractive places to shop and trade in. We are committed to ensuring that problems we have experienced in the past are not replicated. We will work to ensure that the right Hackney’s much-loved markets are successful in the long-term.”
Consultants also commented that during the early stages of the two-year project, it was difficult for them to obtain the information they needed to carry out their investigations, and that nobody appeared to be taking accountability for the ‘visible and diverse problems’ they were discovering. The project team also said they struggled to carry out financial analysis because many of the figures Hackney Council provided were contradictory.
A Council spokesperson said: “Instances where not enough information was available relating to markets’ revenue have already been addressed and full break-downs of costs, incurred and generated, are now available in addition to a system where there are regular audits to ensure that this information is kept up-to-date.”
Other changes approved are to provide a waste and cleansing management plan for each market, set up procedures to nurture and support new traders, and to establish a London Borough of Hackney markets brand within two years with clearer signage.
Andrew Veitch, executive director of Broadway Market Projects cic, said: “There’s plenty of encouraging and useful material in the report and the consultants are very enthusiastic about the success of the community street market on Broadway Market.
“But it is difficult to understand how a council department described by the consultants as ‘haphazard, uncoordinated and ineffective’ can possibly be considered fit to take more control over our market.”
He added: “We look forward to meaningful discussions with the Council on ways of improving our market: as the consultants say, our greatest need is a public lavatory!”