Supporting markets to survive and thrive

For around a thousand years, the London Borough Market has existed in one form or another.  It has survived fire, flood, plague and war – and on the 3rd of June this year, a terrorist attack.  The market has since reopened, with traders determined to continue their work and serve the local community.

Although many markets are a historic part of their host towns and cities, they are far from being relics.  Indeed, in recent years markets have experienced something of a revival.  In London alone, since 2010, the number of street markets has grown from 162 to over 250.

There are clear reasons for this – markets offer consumers and traders a number of benefits, and they make significant contributions to the economic, social and political health of towns and cities.

Economic impact of markets

Indeed, in 2015, the Institute of Place Management (IPM) conducted a comprehensive review of the impact of markets and found that markets not only have a significant turnover, they also impact indirectly on the wider economy – meaning that the £3.5 billion turnover directly attributable to retail markets is actually worth around £10.5 billion to the UK economy.

The Portas review in 2011 hailed markets as a potential saviour of the high street.  Indeed, the IPM review supports this, reporting that markets can help to increase town centre footfall by up to 25%.  This has significant economic potential.  In London, market visitors spend around £752 million per annum in nearby shop-based retailers.

Markets were also found to:

  • act as a significant employer, both nationally and at the local level
  • support intergenerational economic mobility (through family-owned businesses)
  • support the development of entrepreneurial skills in young people through ‘youth markets’
  • act as business incubators and support business formation due to their low barriers to entry, for example, enabling migrants to set up their own businesses
  • enable small businesses to reach larger businesses whom they can supply, and support other local businesses, such as farmers.
  • encourage high street diversity and create a distinct ‘identity’ for high streets
  • promote high street resilience, as they are flexible and able to respond quickly to changing demands.
  • help to utilise vacant and underused spaces within high streets
  • attract tourists, who are drawn to them because they are “unique, quirky, unusual”

Wider benefits

Markets also have a number of social purposes.  They are important places of social interaction, which facilitate community cohesion and social inclusion.  Markets can also help to improve public health and quality of life through the provision of fresh, quality produce at lower price points, which may be particularly beneficial for low-income families.

From an environmental perspective, there are also a number of benefits arising from the sale and purchase of locally produced products, including reducing pollution associated with high ‘food miles’ and reducing the need for consumers to travel to out-of-town sites, such as large retail parks, in order to make their purchases.

Challenges

Although there is overwhelming evidence that almost every street, food and farmer’s market is an invaluable asset to its local community, markets still face a number of very real threats.  These include:

  • the rise of out-of-town shopping centres, the dominance of big supermarkets, and the popularity of online shopping
  • planning and regulatory regimes that do not allow for, or restrict, the expansion or establishment of markets
  • a lack of support for markets or poor management by local authorities
  • high land values making it difficult for markets to be established

As many markets are a lifeline for areas experiencing deprivation, it is important that they receive the support that they require to survive and flourish.

Promoting and supporting markets

So, what can be done to support markets?  Earlier this year, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced plans to establish the London Markets Board – a team of experts tasked with delivering a London markets strategy, and work to preserve and promote London’s increasing number of markets.

On a wider scale, NABMA (National Association of British Market Authorities) and the National Market Traders Federation recently published a ‘five-year manifesto’, which made a number of recommendations for ways to support markets.

A key recommendation is that local authorities work to raise the profile of markets.  There are many market-focused national initiatives such as Love Your Local Market, the National Youth Market, and the Great British Market Awards, which local authorities can become involved in.

The Love Your Local Market campaign, for example, is an annual event, established in 2012, which brings together markets across the UK.  It aims to build affection and support for markets in local communities, and offers free or subsidised pitches to start-ups to test trading conditions.  In 2013, it increased footfall in participating town centres by 10%.

Other recommendations to support markets include:

  • greater recognition of the role of markets in local economies, jobs and growth, as well as in civic local society
  • ensuring that retail markets have a voice in policy making that affects them, including planning and town centre management
  • further lifting the current burden of business rates for SMEs
  • supporting greater awareness of the sector’s employment opportunities including apprenticeships, platforms for self-employment and training hubs
  • developing and supporting sector-led initiatives that aim to support entrepreneurship and increase the amount of businesses on markets, and support them digitally
  • encouraging schools and further education establishments to work with market operators to enable people entering the labour market to embrace markets as a possible career

There are some promising signs.  Around £90 million has been invested into improving markets since 2014, and an increasing number of local authorities are making them central to town centre plans and regeneration activity.

By promoting and supporting markets in this way, the economic, social and environmental benefits can be maximised. As the 2015 review of markets underlines: “markets are an important asset to a location, and their future cannot be left to chance.”

Controlling the urban landscape: the pros and cons of putting public spaces in private hands

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A 2007 report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) described the growing private ownership and management of the public realm as a “quiet revolution in land ownership”.

The study included a handful of early examples, such as the Excel Centre and Canary Wharf in London, and Liverpool’s Paradise Street development (later rebranded Liverpool One). Since then, more of these privately owned public spaces (POPS) have been appearing across the UK, including Granary Square and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, and Brindleyplace in Birmingham.

The evolution of public space

Until relatively recently, local government owned, managed and maintained streets and squares in the UK’s towns and cities. But over the past two decades, budgetary constraints have diminished local authorities’ ability to maintain the public realm. Increasingly, the gap has been filled by the private sector, which has created new POPS.

On the face of it, the redevelopment of previously run-down areas with no cost to the public purse would appear to be a good thing. But there are concerns about the private landlords of these spaces who have the power to restrict and control activities of the public using these spaces.  Alongside these new private-public developments, the rise of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) has increased private sector influence over town and city centres.

A bridge too far?

The issue of privatised public spaces was given renewed prominence with the proposals for a new “Garden Bridge” across the River Thames. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick  the project envisions a pedestrian bridge with its own elevated garden.

Supporters say the Garden Bridge will enrich London, providing economic, environmental and aesthetic benefits. But opponents have expressed concerns about a list of rules prohibiting activities on the bridge, such as busking and cycling. Restrictions of this kind have been applied to other POPS, sometimes resulting in awkward encounters between members of the public and security guards representing the property managers.

As things stand, the fate of the Garden Bridge remains uncertain, following the decision by the Mayor of London to set up an inquiry into the project’s use of public money, and a warning from the National Audit Office that the money may have been wasted.

The pros and cons of POPS

But does it really matter if urban spaces that appear to be public are actually privately-owned?

No, say POPS supporters. Without private funding, spaces such as Brindleyplace and LiverpoolOne might not have been developed at all. Furthermore, the cost of maintaining these privately owned public spaces can be borne by the private sector, instead of local authorities (and the taxpayer). They also point to Liverpool One as a successful example of town centre regeneration, and suggest that private ownership of public space can be a catalyst for renewal of neglected spaces.

But others are unhappy with the creeping privatisation of public spaces, arguing that they sacrifice community spirit and historical identity for the sake of a sterile, monotonous, corporatised spaces. Opponents of POPS are also concerned about the restrictions land owners place on such spaces.

The view from Aberdeen

One city which has recently bucked the trend towards private control over public spaces is Aberdeen. In 2010, the city council planned to hand over the historic Union Terrace Gardens in the city centre to a consortium of business interests – Aberdeen City Garden Trust – under a long lease. The trust released its plans to redesign the Victorian park, raising the sunken gardens to street level. Campaign groups mounted opposition to the scheme, but it was narrowly approved in a city-wide referendum in 2012. However, a new Labour administration came to power shortly after the referendum, and the scheme was finally scrapped. During the summer of 2016, the council announced new plans to redevelop the site, which will remain in public hands.

Final thoughts

The Aberdeen example shows that moves to put public spaces in private hands are not universally popular, or inevitable. Even so, many local authorities are struggling to maintain public spaces, leaving the way open for private developers. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in the borough of Newham, is one of the most recent POPS to appear in London. Sir Robin Wales, the elected mayor of Newham would have preferred the park to be maintained using public funds, but has accepted that his borough could not afford to manage it: “We know we don’t have an income stream.”


Enjoyed this article? Read these other articles written by our team:

Hitting the ground walking: how planners can create more walkable cities, one step at a time

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In recent times, walking has been enlisted as one of the key weapons in the war on inactivity. Planners and policymakers have taken note of evidence highlighting the benefits of walking for health and wellbeing. Meanwhile, local and national governments have taken up the challenge of embedding walking into policy, strategy and guidance. There are now national walking strategies for England, Wales and Scotland, and from Belfast to Bristol local councils have published their own plans to get more people walking.

Travel trends and their costs

During the twentieth century, there was a shift from work involving physical labour to jobs of a more sedentary nature. In addition, the growth of suburbs and rising car ownership has contributed to a decline in people travelling on foot. At the same time, the attractions of television and home computers mean fewer people are spending their leisure time playing sports or taking part in outdoor activities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has put the consequences of these trends into stark perspective:

“Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression and anxiety.”

  • Worldwide, around two million deaths a year are attributed to physical inactivity.
  • In the UK, physical activity contributes to one in six deaths, and costs £7.4 billion a year to business and wider society. It is the fourth largest cause of disease and disability in the UK.
  • In Scotland, inactivity contributes to over 2,500 deaths each year, costing the NHS £94.1m annually.

The benefits of walking

Efforts encouraging people to become more active have had mixed results, and there is now a recognition that turning the tide of physical activity may take decades to achieve. But there’s also a growing understanding that physical activity that can be built in to everyday life can be as effective as supervised exercise programmes. And, as we reported last week, the health benefits of walking can be demonstrated in unexpected ways, such as the emergence of the Pokémon Go game as an incentive to exercise.

A recent report from the Arup design and engineering firm highlights that walking is good for cities as well as for people. It details more than 50 ways in which the world can benefit from walkable cities, including:

  • Social benefits – health and wellbeing, safety, placemaking, social cohesion and equality.
  • Economic benefits – city attractiveness, urban regeneration, cost savings.
  • Environmental benefits – addressing air and noise pollution, improving liveability and transport efficiency.
  • Political benefits – leadership, urban governance, sustainable development and planning opportunities.

Making walkable places

Another key theme of the Arup report was the importance of planning for pedestrians:

“If we want cities to be more walkable, the way we design cities has to change. Walkable places are more compact, dense with mixed uses. Streets have to be well connected with more shade from sun and rain, green spaces, trees and public spaces. And, we must pay more attention to the quality of public spaces, not just providing quantity of walkable space.” Joanna Rowelle, Director at Arup

The report lists 40 actions that city leaders can consider to inform walking policy, strategy and design. Among the ideas:

  • Temporarily removing cars from a city can transform roads into public spaces, raise awareness around car dependency, reduce air pollution, and reveal the potential opportunities created by having more – and safer – spaces for people.
  • Financial incentives and disincentives, including subsidies and taxes like congestion charges, can be used to encourage behaviour change.
  • Use of shared spaces to create a pedestrian-oriented environment where people are aware of fellow road users.
  • Unused infrastructure – such as New York City’s High Line – offers major opportunities for facilitating safe and attractive pedestrian routes and activity spaces.
  • Urban regeneration creates the opportunity to redevelop small pieces of land into pocket parks or public spaces with a green character.
  • Rivers and waterways can be transformed from barriers into walking and cycling routes by creating green and accommodating waterfronts.

Best foot forward?

Many of the suggestions in the Arup report are not hard to implement, and needn’t be costly. But even when schemes have been enacted, they may face opposition.

Each weekend, for the past seven years, a busy thoroughfare in Bucharest has been cleared to create Via Sport – a safe space for leisure and sport. This summer, the city’s new mayor claimed Via Sport has been causing traffic problems. The scheme has now been closed for the foreseeable future.

Old instincts die hard. Those rethinking patterns and processes of urban design to stimulate walking (and cycling) will face a few bumps in the road. But the potential rewards will be great. As David Sim of Gehl Architects observes:

“The key strategy is about getting people to actually spend time out on the street. They become a part of the space, familiar with their neighbours, and are in tune with city life.”


Our previous blog posts on urban planning for pedestrians and cyclists include:

 

The civic use of heritage assets

Today, we’re pleased to welcome our guest blogger, Cliff Hague, former Chair of Built Environment Forum Scotland, who reflects on the civic use of heritage assets and the challenges facing Scotland’s historic built environment.

The sorry saga of the hotel proposals* for the Royal High School in Edinburgh illustrates the wider problems that Scotland’s historic built environment faces. While insensitivity from local councils in the face of commercial pressure is by no means new, the hollowing out of local government that began in the 1980s is so profound that the very notion of “civic” has reached a vanishing point. We are left with organisations whose existence is reduced to least cost “service delivery” to customers and clients. The idea that a place belongs to its citizens is imperilled.

Viewed through this prism, the historic environment is stripped of all meaning and memories. It becomes only an item on a balance sheet, where it shows up as negative rather than as an asset, unless it can be monetarised in some way. Faced with the presumption that all investment is good investment, but investment to draw and cater to the whims of a global elite is best of all, it becomes very difficult to conduct a truly rational debate about how historic places should be planned and managed. Decisions are framed in a space where on the one side there is practical economic realism promising “jobs”, and on the other a “heritage lobby”, self-interested, marginal and unaccountable.

Similar unequal contests are taking place globally, not least in the developing world where the institutions defending places are less resourced and established, the growth rates higher, and transparency in governments less than here in Scotland.

Reinfusion of the civic ideal

While, ultimately, each site is unique and a case needs to be made on specific grounds, some general framework for addressing  the challenges can be advanced.  A starting point needs to be a reinfusion of the civic ideal. Villages, towns and cities intrinsically have a civic dimension; they are shared spaces, common experiences, a legacy passed on through time, embodying values and relationships in their built and natural environment. Just by being there each of us shares and has a legitimate stake in the place. The idea that citizens are no more than “third parties”, necessarily subservient to owners and even anonymous investors from far away, has become a means of degrading these connections.  It complements the surge of corporate investment into urban property that Saskia Sassen has recently pointed to as altering “the historic meaning of the city”.

Civic responsibility is not a new idea: what is new is the extent to which it has been squeezed as governments, international (e.g. EU), national and local, have become aligned with footloose finance, which in turn scours the globe for opportunities to achieve higher returns. Concomitant with this process has been the leeching of public service, draining away proactive civic leadership, and leaving only the application of routine procedures as its dilute lifeblood.

The last generation has seen a proliferation of exclusive spaces in urban areas. The obvious ones are gated communities, private streets and security-guarded shopping malls, but increasingly the impoverishment of the civic ideal points to the erection of paywalls to access public buildings and spaces. Within increasingly unequal societies exclusive spaces have become a prerequisite for the privileged, complementing their avoidance of transfer payments to the less well off.

A new civic ideal both requires and can drive enlightenment. We need new eyes to see possibilities beyond the idea that secure and high returns on property investment constitute the unchallengeable logic to drive urban development. Enlightenment also means mobilising civic society to lead and share new thinking, to rise above the apathy of powerlessness and create an active citizenship.

Failings but also possibilities

The situation at the Royal High School site embodies all the failings, but also all the possibilities sketched above. An iconic building on an outstanding site has been underused for years, with a void of civic vision for its use. Then comes the whiff of multi-million pound investment and the promise of an additional facility for the exclusive use of the very rich. The heritage lobby is left to react, wringing its hands at the pre-requisites for a commercially (confidential) viable design.

But what if? What if this jewel in Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site could be combined with the Collective’s City Observatory Redevelopment Project for Calton Hill, to become the catalyst for doing things differently, a hub for civic enlightenment symbolically looking over the civil servants in St Andrews House and the politicians in Holyrood?

Just what might a hub for civic enlightenment be? An ideas and design competition to find out would be a good start, telling the people of the city, its children, professionals and civic groups that they can have a leading voice. It could be a place where regular, high profile “Edinburgh Debates” are staged on topical issues, and live streamed as part of the branding of the city as a global node of ideas and openness. It could be a venue in the Book Festival and the Science Festival, and of course the Edinburgh Lectures. It could incorporate aspects of the School of Music counter-proposal for the Royal High School building.

There could be spaces for multi-disciplinary and international innovation teams, young graduates selected on merit and given space and a time-limited brief to come up with new ideas – social as well as technological innovations to address a practical brief such as the delivery of affordable, carbon-neutral  housing, or narrowing the gaps in educational attainment. There could be some serviced apartments to accommodate visiting “enlighteners in residence”, as well as some commercial lets, and, of course, an interpretation facility explaining civic enlightenment, and pointing to how every individual and community has a part to play.

The whole would be a swirl of ideas and creativity, a place open to all, locally rooted but globally renowned. In other words, we would use the meaning of the building to explain and inspire Edinburgh’s greatest asset – the dynamic fusion of learning, thinking and environment as a catalyst for a high quality civic life. Or we could always have a luxury hotel, with as much new development crammed on to the idle ground as is required to ensure satisfactory returns to investors.


*The Royal High School hotel plans mentioned in this article were rejected by councillors on 17 December 2015, and the search for an appropriate new use for the site will continue.

Cliff Hague is a freelance consultant, researcher, author and trainer. He is Professor Emeritus of Planning and Spatial Development at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, past President of the Royal Town Planning Institute, and of the Commonwealth Association of Planners, and a past Chair of Built Environment Forum Scotland. You can read more about Cliff’s current work on his website: http://www.cliffhague.com/

This article was originally published on the Built Environment Forum Scotland blog. BEFS is the strategic intermediary body for Scotland’s built environment sector, bringing together voluntary and professional non-governmental organisations that operate at the national level.

If you enjoyed this article, we discussed the issue of planning in Edinburgh and the impact of its World Heritage Site status in another recent blog: Is there any value in preserving our built heritage?