On 12th June, Steve Bamber, Chair of the Canterbury Market Traders’ Association, wrote to Bill Hicks, the Canterbury City Council officer involved in the disbandment of Canterbury Market from St George’s Street, citing his grave concerns about the council’s new consultation on this issue.
The matter is now time sensitive due to the council’s own deadline of 11th July for responses to its consultation, so Steve Bamber requested a reply to his letter by 17th June. Now, almost 3 weeks later, and with no proper response having been received from Bill Hicks, Steve is releasing his letter to Whitstable Views for publication in the public interest. You will find the letter below.
As one of the many supporters of Canterbury Market (our petition against the market’s closure has now gained over 700 signatures) I am appalled that Canterbury Council is failing to treat market traders, like Steve Bamber, with the due respect they deserve and, instead, seems content for them to endure, as Steve himself describes, “uncertainty, worry and stress” without even according them the courtesy of a reply to important correspondence relating to a live consultation. This is no way to treat our traders.
Steve Bamber says “My letter of 12th July to Bill Hicks spelled out my serious concerns about the new consultation which the council had launched without giving traders, or even myself as Chairman of their Association, first sight of the details of the new pitches designated by the council for traders.
“Stressing the urgency of the situation and the ticking clock the council had now chosen to set in motion, I asked for Bill to respond to me by Friday 17th June.
“To date (30th June) I have received no proper written response to my letter other than a cursory mention of it in an email, on another subject, in which Bill referred to my letter as a “note”: See: “I will respond to your note below more formally.”
“Without proper liaison with market traders on the details of the consultation’s contents, I feel I have no choice but to release my letter to the public in the hope that residents are able to obtain a clearer picture of what is going on.
“Market traders’ livelihoods are at stake and residents are being expected to respond to a council consultation without being in possession of the full facts of this issue or how traders’ concerns and views continue to be ignored by a council that seems intent on depriving Canterbury of an historic market in the centre of the city where it belongs.
“Importantly, my letter ends with the following sentence: “we are still willing to engage with you on viable alternative sites.”
“Do I take it from the lack of response that the council are indeed not willing to engage?”
Steve Bamber’s letter to Bill Hicks follows here:-
I have been a Canterbury Market trader for 26 years and, as you know, I am also the Chairman of Canterbury Market Traders’ Association.
Following the council’s plans to develop St George’s Street and disband its long-standing market as part of that development, I have tried my hardest to work alongside officers like yourself at Canterbury City Council in order to negotiate an acceptable way forward for all traders – both market traders and street traders alike. However, I now have to make very clear to you that the latest pitch proposals put forward in the council’s consultation are totally unacceptable.
As you have been in your current position only since February of this year, I would like to point out the following:-
Lack of Notification
Canterbury City Council never saw fit to give any trader proper warning regarding its plans to develop St George’s Street. In fact, traders were only to learn of this via a front page news story in the local Kent Messenger newspaper on 20th February 2020. That news story, headlined High Street Boulevard made clear that a report had been prepared by council officers for the attention of the elected councillors on the Policy and Resources committee to consider proposals to “de-clutter” St George’s Street. The reason given for this was that “potential new tenants” for the council-owned Whitefriars shopping centre might be “put off” taking up units due to the presence of the market.
That news story then explained that the operator of Whitefriars, New River, had claimed that the market was “a primary risk to the operator of the shopping centre” and seen to be “detrimental to the area.”
Detrimental to whom? Certainly not to the market’s many local customers or the Canterbury visitors who flock to us – so where did New River’s evidence come from?
Did Canterbury City Council not consider that perhaps lowering the unit rents in Whitefriars might improve the prospects of New River securing tenants for units in its shopping centre?
At that time, council officers spoke only of a desire to protect the “council asset” of Whitefriars against a background of changes to the national picture…resulting in reduced footfall.”
Ironically those officers also wrote of providing a “high street experience” that can be enjoyed by visitors and the local community – a “focal point for social interaction, encouraging visitors to dwell for longer” – without once recognising that this is exactly what a street market provides!
Importantly, council officers must have been working on this report for some considerable time without ever having the decency or courtesy to communicate their proposals to market traders whose livelihoods were, and still remain, at risk from these expensive and grandiose plans to protect Whitefriars at all costs – or at least at the cost of a popular market.
But in hindsight , this is wholly characteristic of the lack of respect you have accorded to traders since these proposals were first put forward.
Alternative Plans for Traders
At that time, Richard Moore, the council’s Head of Transportation and Environment, was in charge of the proposed new developments for St George’s Street and I met with him and Cllr Barbara Flack several times. The understanding was that market traders would surrender their market pitches to trade from alternative sites close to the market’s existing base and on that understanding, I was then duly instructed to draw up plans for alternative pitches for traders – close to St George’s Street.
I did so, proposing alternative pitch sites in the High Street, which Richard then agreed was a good location due to footfall.
In January of this year, (2022), I then contacted Richard Moore for an update on these plans – and found he was no longer in place. He informed me that he “needed to step back from these issues” but assured me that you would be coming on board to help traders secure a future for the market – but not until the end of February.
Delays in information
In fact, as you well know, it was not until March of this year that I was to gain a meeting with you, following a period of several months of uncertainty, worry and stress about the responsibility I bear not only to my family as breadwinner, but to all the other market traders I represent who were looking to me for information and leadership.
In March, I remained hopeful of positive news because Richard had previously told me that the plans I had submitted were good and that he wanted to work with us to secure a future for market traders. Unfortunately, that “future” was to remain a mystery because the council then chose not to share its own plans with any traders until the current public consultation went live on 30th May.
Lack of liaison concerning the new consultation
To clarify, I received an email on Tuesday 24th May from the council’s Market Manager, David Harte, telling me “The council wishes to ensure that market and street traders are aware of this consultation and you have an opportunity to see and comment on the consultation document before it goes live next week.” We were offered a meeting for the very next day – Wednesday 25th – and in spite of the short notice, we managed to attend, only to then be informed that the consultation papers were not available – so, in effect, this was a total waste of our time.
The council then agreed to a meeting on Thursday 26h May, designated for street traders, and to which market traders did not go as we had been given no consultation papers the previous day. I then rang the council’s Market Manager, David Harte, on Friday 27th and was given sight of a copy of the consultation but it failed to show a detailed breakdown of the pitches – no sizes given or whether gazebos could be used.
In fact, we were only able to view the council’s plans for the distribution of pitches together with all the essential information we required, and had requested, once the consultation actually went live on Monday 30th May.
Council’s new consultation
In short, and in effect, we have been presented with a fait accompli – a done deal – because you have seen fit to publish a public consultation, which shows the council’s own plans for the redistribution of pitches (for both street traders and market traders) and these bear no relation to the plans I drew up, which had been welcomed by Richard Moore.
You will know very well (although I doubt that many members of the public are yet aware) that there is an important distinction between a market trader, a street trader and their individual needs. As I pointed out in a letter published by the Kent Messenger newspaper last week (“Moving traders will kill market”), crucially, a market trader trades from a gazebo, and although there are currently over a dozen market traders operating in Canterbury Market, and only 3 street traders, the council’s plans in this consultation show 41 small pitches suitable for street traders (available from Canterbury West station to the clock tower at the top end of St George’s Street) but no gazebo pitches for market traders other than in Iron Bar Lane – a derelict area with no surrounding retail outlets – and Station Road West; “a million miles from St George’s Street” as described by market customers.
I have to inform you now that I consider this a total betrayal of Canterbury Market traders by Canterbury City Council. Not only have you failed to properly liaise with us, the questions within the new consultation appear skewed towards you being able to interpret responses in a way that will favour only your own plans for St George’s Street and the council’s own retail “asset”. All this at the expense of a market which not only forms a vibrant part of the city’s appeal and heritage, it also provides an important resource for local residents during the current cost- of-living-crisis, as pointed out recently in letters to the press from Lillian Metcalfe and the author and campaigner, Julie Wassmer. They are both right. But the market also serves as a vital source of safe social interaction at a time when people most need it ie post-Covid. And, I would add, in a way that a retail unit in Whitefriars never could.
A shopping centre and a street market are two completely different things. They need not be in competition with one another, and I suggest that if Whitefriars feels threatened by a twice-weekly street market in St George’s Street – a market which has, in fact, been whittled down in the last year by the council failing to renew pitch rentals, then it’s hardly going to be revived by an obscenely expensive “makeover” involving some new paving stones and benches. If New River still feels, after 2 years, that Canterbury Market somehow lowers the tone of St George’s Street, why doesn’t the council invest in us and improve what we have to offer to both residents and visitors – and save the council taxpayer the best part of £1.2m at the same time?
May I remind you that local people resisted the council felling existing trees as part of these unnecessary development plans for St George’s Street? Kent County Council has now effectively blocked Canterbury Council from doing away with those trees so your plans will now have to be redrawn to accommodate them.
Public awareness has also been raised of your plans to disband the market by scattering traders to pitches all over the city and we are receiving a huge amount of public support. Press stories, letters in the newspapers and a new petition have appeared, highlighting how the plans put forward in your consultation will effectively kill off a market in Canterbury – for good – as is clear from the appalling sites you have offered to those trading from gazebos. You must surely be aware that market traders could never survive a move to Iron Bar Lane or Station Road West, and so I can only presume that you never wanted us to survive – even outside the market base in St George’s Street.
Consequently, in the light of all the above, and the fact that I have worked in good faithwith the council for the benefit of all traders, you must now understand that I have no faith in this consultation as it stands because the sites designated for market traders seem to have been chosen precisely in order to see market traders fail.
I urge you to take on board the contents of this letter, Bill, and to kindly give to market traders and myself the respect and courtesy that has been sadly lacking on this issue throughout the last two years and provide me with a comprehensive reply to this letter by Friday 17th June, at the latest, not least because the council has seen fit to launch its consultation with a ticking-clock deadline of July 11th.
I would also urge you, your fellow council officers, the council leader and councillors to understand, as both we and increasing numbers of the public do, that there is only one proper place for Canterbury’s market traders and that is in Canterbury Market – where we belong and where the council should finally recognise we should remain. Nevertheless, we are still willing to engage with you on viable alternative sites.
Chairman Canterbury Market Traders’ Association
Petition: SAVE CANTERBURY MARKET
Steve Bamber has been a Canterbury Market Trader for 26 years and Chairman of the Canterbury Market Association for 13 years,
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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