Having read in the Stockport Express, that the Council are conducting a consultation process on the future of the marketplace, as reported below, I went along to the Produce Hall to see. I saw no mention of the consultation outside the Produce Hall, or anywhere, until I made my way to the back of the hall and found some notice boards. Theew was nothing to draw one's attention to the fact the future of the Marketplace is at stake.
On the boards and in a handy A4 booklet, there is a potted history of the 750 old market and the 144 year old Covered Market Hall. More importantly, it sets out the future.
'"The perfomance of the Stockport Markets Service reflects the national trend of rising operational costs, declining occupancy and reduced viability resulting from intense competition and Retail Consolidation. 85% of UK household goods are now sold by four 'Multiple' retailers, and the impact on markets, local economies and the character of town centres is now becoming apparent. The retail industry is constantly evolving new forms of competition, and this coupled with the enlargement of existing outlests into 'Superstores' and diversification into own-brand fashion is eroding the viability of Markets. This trend is bound to continue as the 'Multiples' intensify their efforts to win more market share."
The Council also resolved to make a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for assistance with the renovation of the building, and have appointed Buttress Fuller Alsop Williams to draw up the plans.'
Four Options are presented:
1) Do nothing - this is not possible as the Council has a statutory duty to maintain the Covered Market Hall.
2) Repair only - which does nothing to reverse the decline of the market.
3) Repair of fabric & removal of the fixed stalls. This includes removing the side walls. This returns the Covered Market Hall to pre-1895 conditions, but is likely to accelerate the decline of the market.
4) Repair of historic elements & improvements to the interior. This is a general upgrading of the Market Hall. It includes: 2-sided stalls which face both out of and into the hall; replacing some boards with glass to make the hall more inviting; improved access for wheelchairs; improved food and cafe units. Perhaps the greatest innovation is the introduction of an area without permanent stalls for alternative use for events, particularly in the evening. The aim is to move towards 6 day trading.
So of the 4 options, one is impossible and two are undesirable. I am not convinced that the fourth option is the only viable solution, but it is interesting.
Assuming it is done attractively, it could be quite a draw and move the Marketplace upmarket (no pun intended). The market currently survives on being cheap and cheerful, not always the best recipe for economic success, but the Council has to be careful. If the market stall rents increase, as I suspect they will do, they could chase off the current stalls and won't necessarily attract the more upmarket traders or customers.
There is no mention of what will happen to the market stalls outside the hall. I don't always like the way the stalls obstruct and obscure St Mary's and other gems of the marketplace, but they are an important part of the market.
I am not sure if the proposals are good or not, I just know there is not enough information.
I don't know whether the Trust are consultation with Council on this matter. I would love to see your comments added to this posting (just click on the work "comments" below). Meanwhile you may wish to get in contact with the Council for yourself. The Council has invited the public's response by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Produce Hall before 20 October. Follow this link for a not very informative piece on the Stockport MBC website.