Opinion: ‘Save our market to protect trade’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 13th June 2021, 1:30 pm
Peterborough City Market

With the redevelopment of Northminster, I was hoping it would be a great opportunity to construct a new market in that area. Unfortunately, it appears this will not be the case.

Regeneration is fine as a concept. There’s nothing inherently wrong with finding a new use for land or buildings which would otherwise be unused. There are many compelling examples from around the world, South Street Seaport in New York City is one.

The Royal Albert Dock in Liverpool is another. However, our market doesn’t qualify. It’s not defunct.

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It’s been part of our city for quite some time. It contributes to the local economy. In an age when you need something different to draw people to the shops, rather than more big retailers, the market is an ideal venue.

The market supplies products that the people of Peterborough value and are willing to go to the town centre to get, creating footfall for adjacent businesses. It also supports livelihoods; the traders should be supported, not shunted to somewhere which may inhibit their trade.

I have to wonder why the Conservative administration can’t see this. I believe their emphasis on big provides part of the clue: they have always been attracted to big developments, big retail parks, big department stores. However, as we’ve known since 2008, big is vulnerable. Homogenous is also less compelling than it once was; witness the fates of many large, national retail chains. People will go shopping, but it has to be for something they can’t get online. The market provides this.

The council has a new leader, and there are new cabinet members. However, that’s merely a rearrangement of chairs: the same mindset exists. The thrall which “big” holds over them remains. The attraction of being seen to be doing something rather than thinking through what we’re doing is still compelling. They hope to sell yet another big project to you, the resident, and say: “Look, we’re active!” But not all activity is worthwhile; though is generally preferable to reflex.

The plans for moving the market are advanced to the point that we have to consider where they are going to be rehoused rather than if. We should consider how we can continue to get the benefits of increased footfall and reasons to come to the city centre. Given this, I suggest the market is moved to North Westgate. I also suggest that the council does what it can to further diversify and internationalise the market: this will provide even more reason for people to come.

Variety, choice and differentiation are important.

There is one cast iron certainty: we must not let the market traders down. I have repeatedly argued that Peterborough should do what it can to support small businesses. Placing our emphasis on small and medium sized businesses enhances our city’s resilience. Pushing these small businesses to the periphery would be a retrograde step. Doing so in the name of doing “something” is worse than useless.