Sunday, 22 March 2015

Update on the New Watford Market - March 21st 2015

So over 3 months after my blog about what was really happening at the market, and now 10 weeks after the much more positive post from the meeting held on the Market January 5th this year. If you read the post of the 11th January there was a long list of improvements promised... 3 working groups set up to cover infrastructure, marketing and ensuring the right kind of stall holders were being selected when vacancies became available. These groups were to have a Town & Country representative on them to organise and feed back information.

What has happened in the ensuing 3 months. Not much to be perfectly frank. A lot of speculation, a lot of promises but not much has happened. The 3 groups have not met nor have any meetings been scheduled as far as I know. The long list of improvements including a sound system for the Market and heaters for upstairs in the food court area, all much discussed but nothing has yet materialised. The heaters are expected to be installed end of March 2015... Since being advised of this end of February things have gone very quiet on this front again. Soon we won't be needing them until next winter.

There is an ongoing battle with every trader regarding half a weeks rent over a mix up about when the opening 4 weeks at half rent started back in October 2014. The heavy handed approach used to notify traders of this has resulted in a worsening of relations between the Stall holders and the operator 'Town and Country'.

With the delayed opening of the Market late last year, the New Market was always going to limp through as winter took hold. Without at least 3 months of warm weather to form new habits around the market, many people have just taken the easy warmer option and gone elsewhere.

Spring has arrived, but with that also the impending return to full rents for the market traders. Many of the traders have barely 'taken' enough money to pay the rent since the market opened, let alone make any profit. A return to full rents right now I've been told could result in a mass exodus from the market, therefore this decision needs careful consideration otherwise there'll be a lot less rent to collect! The Traders are due to renew their contracts shortly as well.

As The Mayor Dorothy Thornhill said in her interview with me (you can watch hers and all other candidates interviews here) there was speculation about the impact of moving the market to the new location, but that this had been grossly underestimated. In effect what we have is a brand new market, a brand new proposition, and it has to be rebuilt from the ground up.

To date the Traders have born the brunt of financing the low footfall and the deficit of income from the move. It is normal as I understand it for rents to be charged at 1/2 rates during the hard winter months so this is not something the council or Town & Country have done out of the goodness of their hearts to help the traders, this is typical on most markets.

What can be done then? The bottom line is that these traders had decent businesses in the old location. They have accommodated the change to what is ostensibly an outside market, in many cases they now have smaller units too. They have operated through the challenging winter months and most have stuck it out. They have switched to operating 5 days as opposed to 3 in the old market, the net effect of which is to spread the equivalent revenue (although this has been down as much as 60% in the new location)... but... Incur 2 additional days operating costs, especially where staff are involved. This has further eroded profits.

It seems rather brutal to ask the traders to take the brunt of the costs for rebuilding the New Market when there are 3 partners in this project. If the rents are put back to full weekly rents I can see just a handful of stall holders remaining. It's not like there is a huge waiting list for people wishing to occupy vacant units either, some of them have been vacant now for 3-5 months.

If we are not to witness a mass exodus from the new market and perhaps a return to the street market of old where the daily stalls are now, then some serious decisions need to be taken.

Personally I would suggest a return to a 3 day market Tuesday, Friday and Saturday for the moment, this is supported by most if not all traders, reducing their costs and increasing business on the days open... Exception to this might be the food court during the summer months perhaps. A waiving of the rents for a period of 6 months to get the traders positive and supportive of growing the market and rebuilding the badly damaged bridges between them, Town & Country and the council. A proper 'New Market working team' needs putting in place too, one that meets regularly (bi-weekly) to get the long list of much needed deliverables delivered and to do some effective marketing.

Everyone has to take some responsibility for what has happened, not expect the market traders to solely continue funding it through their losses. I think Town & Country need to look long and hard at the idea of raising the 'rents' and if money is tight then the council will have to look at reducing their revenue expectations too.

Positive final words...


With the warmer months approaching and events scheduled to bring people into the Market there is a real opportunity by working together to build strongly during the spring, summer and autumn months. Francis (Candelit Wishes) and Mina (Shona Boutique) along with Sweetie Sue did a great job with the Mother's Day event. There was an Italian Market yesterday and we've also got an animal petting zoo event coming up around Easter plus further events scheduled during the coming months (check the New Watford Market website here)

What we need now is a period of focus on rebuilding not 'rent collecting'. With a fully supported New Market project in place, a Market Team to ensure things get done, and with everyone working together to create a real destination for visitors to Watford, this can be turned around. Before that though... some tough decisions need to be taken, and they need to be taken this week coming...

For those interested in attending (would be a great opportunity for those standing for office to get along too) there is a meeting at the New Watford Market with all the traders this Tuesday evening 5pm, 24th March upstairs... This could be 'D' Day for the Market...

** Credits for photographs +Diane Richardson and +Chris Ogle