Photo: Kent Messenger
For almost twenty years I wrote for BBC’s EastEnders, a TV series with a market at its heart in fictional Albert Square. I felt comfortable in this world because it resembled my own childhood territory in the East End of London—where I had grown up with a strong community—and colourful street markets…
Close to my home was Roman Road Market – which ran for almost a mile from Bow to Bethnal Green like a great artery pumping life into the body of our area. The “Roman” was always packed with local people queuing at pie and mash shop stalls filled with trays of writhing eels. But other local East End markets, like Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane, became world famous, appearing in feature films and attracting visitors from all over the world – as markets so often do.
Decades later, I was to move to Notting Hill Gate, a stone’s throw from another world-famous market—Portobello Road – the world’s largest antiques market but which also sells produce as well as fashion, and which, in many ways contributed to the area gaining its popularity and stylish gentrification in the mid and late‘80s. Some years after that, I moved to Peckham which boasted its own colourful street market, as well as another historic market on East Street – just off the Walworth Road – close to where Charlie Chaplin had been born.
Street markets offer numerous benefits to a town or city including increased footfall, an improved local economy, greater employment opportunities, increased tourism and an enhancement of the area’s sense of community. According to the High Street Task Force resource: “Ideally, markets need to be located in areas of good natural footfall e.g. main access routes for town centres, sub-centres, high streets.”
For tourists, city centres with bustling market scenes are great destinations. If you really want to know a place, visit its local market. Hunting for bargains, and tasting and purchasing local street food becomes a memorable part of any visitor’s agenda—even if the original outing begins only as a sightseeing exercise. Virtually every major city in the world has at least some sort of market that can offer its visitors an authentic experience but in Canterbury, rather than exploiting and developing its own street market in St George’s Street, the city council is proposing to close it in January 2023 to make way for what it dubs as “environmental improvements” – a misnomer if ever there was one.
The great city of Canterbury has issued licences for a variety of markets as far back in history as 1453. As the Gazette newspaper pointed out: “A written account dated 1800 from historian Edward Hasted details a twice-weekly market in the city, in which he describes it being ‘plentifully supplied with all kind of provisions‘.” The last market standing, the twice-weekly general market, operating only on Wednesdays and Fridays in St George’s Street, still supplies “all kind of provisions” for its customers, but it consists of only fourteen pitches and needs supporting – not closing.
For some curious reason, however, our frequently described “cash-strapped council” has embarked upon costly plans to disband the market next year in order to create a soulless and wholly unnecessary “boulevard” – the cost of which has already risen from an original £630,000 to a staggering £1m.
Why has it done so?
City councillor Barbara Flack said of the existing market area: “Many will agree it is not the first impression we want visitors to have when they arrive in our gorgeous city.”
Why on earth not?
Markets all over the world remain magnets for visitors and in Kent one only has to look at the popularity of Faversham Market to understand this. Whitstable has already lost its market and the Sunday boot fair has gone from Wincheap’s Park and Ride area. What exactly does this council have against markets? And why on earth would it possibly consider the White Elephant legacy proposals displayed in its new design plans to be “improvements”?
Make no mistake, these plans are unpopular with residents, as evidenced by the overwhelming support for the market in the first council consultation – 600 consultation papers were commented on accordingly on one market trader’s stall alone. There were also thousands of signatures gathered on petitions (both paper and online) before the council saw fit to suspend that original consultation—citing the Covid pandemic—while disallowing every single one of those original comments in the next. So much for local democracy.
In March last year, Cllr Flack announced that the first consultation on these unpopular plans was being halted because life had “changed” due to the Covid crisis. I suggest that with the economic difficulties many residents now face due to the current cost-of-living crisis, “life has changed” yet again, and this council would do well to listen to the people across this constituency who want and need its street market in Canterbury to remain.
The removal of this market will not only destroy traders’ livelihoods, it will mean the destruction of 5 much loved mature trees while depriving people of the chance to obtain market produce at significantly lower cost than in shops and stores.
Few people actually appear to consider the loss of the market as an “improvement”, though the council boasts that its second consultation showed that 68% of respondents did so. But the truth is that once the first consultation was suspended and the original comments from residents were disallowed for the next, many local people lost faith in this process and simply failed to respond a second time around; some even felt that Canterbury City Council would be inclined to keep consulting, in effect wasting everyone’s time, until it finally got the result it wanted. The second consultation was therefore deemed to be nothing short of a box-ticking exercise—as well as a demolition of democracy.
At the beginning of this piece I mentioned Roman Road, Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane as the markets of my childhood—but in fact London’s East End now boasts very many thriving popular markets: Roman Road, Victoria Park, Bethnal Green, Columbia Road, Watney Road, Chrisp Street, Petticoat Lane, Whitechapel, Broadway, Old Spitalfields, I could go on… Each of them attracts footfall, not just from those who need to purchase good and affordable produce but city slickers, stylish hipsters and globe-trotting tourists seeking farmers’ market produce, flowers, plants, fashion, street food, vintage and antiques.
So, it really takes an astonishing lack of vision from Canterbury City Council not to be able to see what could be done very easily to achieve the same for our own historic city if only it wasn’t run by the kind of people who display, with these proposals, such small minded, socially prejudiced views that overlook the need of residents and tourists alike.
In short, from all the statements and plans made so far it seems nothing more than petty snobbery that could have inspired a group of councillors to lend their vote to support these short-sighted proposals at the meeting that sanctioned them last year when they chose to squander a vital and valuable resource for the sake of creating a dull urban wasteland of fresh paving stones and benches between parades of empty shops for which no trader can afford the rent and rates.
And is it any wonder that people complain to me, as a community campaigner, that there seems no way of preventing short sighted decisions like this being made when the councillors in question are part of a Conservative majority that will always carry the vote?
Democracy at work?
Personally, I have absolutely no faith in democracy at council level. After all, members of the public have only 4 minutes to have their say at any council meeting and too often they have to do so while councillors lounge around in the Guildhall—talking or even laughing together—in effect, paying scant attention or respect to a well-informed speaker before a councillor or a salaried council officer states something entirely inaccurate—to which members of the public have no right to reply. What follows is the councillors’ often pre-planned vote—and the result for residents are appalling decisions such as these.
Long ago, I boycotted council meetings as the pantomimes I believe them to be – but that does not mean that we do not have an effective “right of reply” to the council panto “villains”. We have that at the ballot box and every one of us should take advantage of this at the very next council election to vote for any other candidate than those who voted for these plans. I therefore take this opportunity to name and shame the councillors who voted for these proposals, and if you disagree with these plans as much as the markets traders and other residents do, I suggest you take careful note of the names of these councillors and make sure you do not vote for any of them at the next council elections. You can also urge others to do the same.
Those councillors are as follows:
Rachel Carnac (Reculver) Barbara Flack (Blean Forest) Mark Dance (Seasalter) Georgina Glover (Sturry) Colin Spooner (Seasalter) Ian Stockley (Beltinge) Jeanette Stockley (Beltinge) David Thomas (Heron)
Please also remember that the leader of the council can only “lead” if he remains a councillor so if you live in Chestfield’s ward you might try voting for someone else other than the current council leader, Ben Fitter-Harding. Remember, city councillors often assume their positions on the council with fewer than a thousand votes—they are not permanent fixtures—and neither should they be.
Of course, there is still time for all those councillors, and for Mr Fitter Harding, to see sense about their own myopic administration – and we welcome them to do so. On this issue, they should take time to talk to residents and traders, leave the mature trees where they are, forget their costly “boulevards” – and allow a much loved and much needed market to flourish.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:-
- Sign this petition: https://www.change.org/p/save-canterbury-market
- Share this blog article with a request for others to do the same.
- Write to your city councillor and inform them that you want them to endorse community action on this and you will not vote for them at the next council election if they allow the council to go ahead with these plans. You can find your councillor here: https://www.canterbury.gov.uk/councillors-and-meetings/find-your-ward-parish-and-councillors/
DON’T VOTE for the councillors who voted for this action at the next election. Their names are listed in the article above as follows:- Rachel Carnac, Barbara Flack, Mark Dance, Georgina Glover, Colin Spooner, Ian Stockley, Jeanette Stockley, David Thomas.
- Look for more news and upcoming actions on the Whitstable Views Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/430604921349396
AND spread the word!
I would very much like to share this comment from Heather Roblin, with her permission, who says:-
“Jeb and Jane at the fruit stall near Fenwicks have become special friends, during the pandemic they went out of their way to deliver fruit and veg to many of us. I am now only able to walk with a 4 wheeled trolley and can just reach their stall. Jeb goes to market to buy delicious fruit and veg at very reasonable prices and I would be lost without them. Please do not cancel the market.”
This is a clear example of how the loss of Canterbury Market will impact residents like Heather. Please keep signing and sharing the petition to raise awareness of this issue.
Letter and Editorial in the Press
Julie Wassmer is a TV drama writer, author and campaigner. Her Whitstable Pearl crime novels, and the TV series based them, are set in Canterbury and its neighbouring town of Whitstable, where she has lived for 23 years.
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