The Oxfordshire Green Party welcomes this publication, the extensive work behind it and the opportunity given for us to make our views known on the future of the market.
We agree with the conclusions that indicate that the market has been very much neglected and are of the opinion that a future plan is very necessary. Moreover we find a great deal of the medium term plan acceptable but do raise a number of questions we think are important about the long term future strategy. We also suggest a number of quick wins to improve the market.
We think it is important that the historical background of the market should inform future strategy.
We are very aware of the role the Covered Market has played in the cultural heritage of Oxford. As such it is unique. The building although only listed at the High Street End helps build the modest but distinct traditional character of Market Street and Jesus College and its wall opposite. Its food character developed very much in relation to the needs of the colleges.
Changes in retailing practices have hit the market quite hard. With the rise of big food retailers, colleges ceased to patronise the markets and more non- food traders were introduced to the market some catering for Oxford’s tourist trade. Much of The general public went over to a weekly food shop with the big food retailers, some out of town. However, this has changed yet again and the big food retailers have moved back into town to catch town centre demand for food shopping which still seems to be quite strong. The market has struggled with these changes, but in our view, its strength lies in its strong character of its independent food traders and we think the time has come with the growing interest in fresh local food to ensure that it has a future which also lies well with its traditional character and heritage. To lose its traditional customer base to passing fads would severely prejudice it in the long term. We support the recommendation to migrate the market more towards fresh food but consider the catering offer should never be allowed to grow more predominant than the traditional food sales.
Medium Term Plan
We strongly support the majority of proposals under the medium term action plan and hope the Council will make the necessary investment to clean and brighten up the market, draw attention to it and promote it. Above all we wish to see the market stay in local council ownership and wholly be comprised of small local independent traders with a strong emphasis on food. We think the appointment of a Manager would give impetus to this.
Future Market Strategy
Although we welcome the call for a long term strategy, we think the long term consequences of expanding the market need far more consideration. This involves expanding the market by 30% and rebuilding and expanding the Market Street frontage. We have concerns that extensive development work could lead to increased rents prejudicial to the independent trader. Also extensive building work while in progress would depress trade.
We think the present frontage at the Cornmarket end, up to the public toilets, has its own unique character and the main structure should be retained though there is scope for some remodelling and far more prominent signing. We would not be opposed to some work involving the toilets being relocated nearby, possibly to the yard, but after their recent improvement works this may not seem a good use of money.
We are also concerned that the suggested increase in floor area along Market Street would make it difficult for traders who provide a delivery service to safely manoeuvre vehicles around shoppers. The closure of Market Street to traders’ vehicles and traffic suggested for the medium term and the provision of external trading stalls would greatly improve things without extensive building operations, but any changes to traders’ parking must not impact negatively on mainly fresh food and flower traders who make regular deliveries to customers during the working week.
We welcome the suggestion that the first floor of the market could be better used and are keen that as well as creating additional space for traders , this could provide small and start up business units thus adding to the daytime economy in the ‘ market quarter’. Likewise a first floor extension over the service yard could further enhance the business mix, but the service yard would have to be retained. We would also like to see part of the service yard converted to provide lockable storage for traders.
We are of the opinion that the market remains with a Market Manager rather than a retail asset management company being taken on.
We agree that more flexible leasing arrangements need to be considered in the long term as part of a mix of lease types but it would need to be implemented in partnership with the traders at a time when their leases were up for renewal.
The research element and the identification of problem areas are well conducted, thorough and we would generally agree with the findings.
An 85% response rate by traders is well above average for surveys and indicates the engagement traders have with the Covered Market
We agree that signage is poor and needs improvement; similarly lighting.
4. Current situation
We agree that a pro-active market manager is essential if the Covered Market is to thrive.
Lighting needs to be improved but solar powered lighting should be considered. Also, any refurbishment should consider how the natural light levels can be improved. A full daylight assessment should be undertaken.
More needs to be done to attract shoppers from Cornmarket in particular to take advantage of the high footfall there. Improving the signage and the ambience of the Cornmarket access is therefore a high priority.
4.10 We note the comment in the report acknowledging that some traders are part of larger successful enterprises, and are concerned that the market policy designed to protect the market from chains has not been fully adhered to. We hope the unique quality of the market will be preserved and that eventually it will revert back to entirely local independent traders.
5.5. We fully agree that the Covered Market needs to be promoted more in website guides to the City Centre.
5.6 A programme of events and trader promotions—in particular joint promotions—would be highly desirable. This could be facilitated by the new market manager (see 4 above)
We welcome the suggestion of a healthy eating option targeted at local office workers.
5.8 We hope that the new market manager would help with improved communications between traders, the traders’ association and market management.
6. Future Vision
We are concerned at the statement ‘The market will have more anchors, more destination retailers, more eat-in food more best class retailers but with a retained focus on independents.’ This seems to assume that an increase in chain stores is desirable. We are strongly opposed to this and would like to see the Covered Market composed entirely of independents with the existing chain stores allowed to leave when their leases expire. We welcome the suggestion of annual events including lunch time recitals and occasional later opening nights.
8. Short to Medium Term Tactical Action Plan
We agree that the appointment of a market manager is essential to revitalising the market.
Whilst welcoming the new events programme we are conscious that the main areas where such events can take place without impeding too much on traders and customers will need to be improved, including better lighting, to provide a more suitable performance space for the proposed recitals. A busking scheme could be introduced quite promptly with very little cost implications
8.3 We welcome the trader support initiatives and would propose that commitment to this be a requirement for any new market manager.
8.4 External trading events to increase the visibility of the market are welcome.
8.5 - 8.7 All of these measures are to be welcomed: a new website and marketing campaign and new branded signage.
8.8 A new ‘Covered Market Quarter’ is an excellent idea but the adjacent traders in Market Street and Turl Street need to be properly involved in creating any new branding to achieve buy in.
8.9. Whilst accepting that trader vans need to be removed from in front of the Market Street entrance to improve visibility and ambience, we are concerned that viable alternative accommodation for trader vans must be identified by the Council and the County Council.
8.10 We agree that the walls and ceiling spaces are in need of cleaning. However, we are concerned that, if the current cleaning team is refocused, the good job they currently do on the floor will be undermined. Should, for example, spillages not be dealt with promptly the Council could be exposing itself to possible legal action for personal injury which could prove costly. Care needs to be taken that the refocusing proposed is not to the detriment of pedestrian safety.
8.11 More outside tables and chairs would be in line with current trends in this country towards ‘café culture’ but we are aware that space is at a premium and this needs to be carefully planned.
8.12 We are delighted at the proposal for ‘Covered Market Oscars’ to celebrate the best aspects of the Covered Market.
8.13 We would propose increasing weekend opening hours and ensuring that opening hours are all clearly and prominently displayed.
8.14 We agree with the idea of a retail offer suitability checklist, although it should not be too rigidly enforced, for example, where a local independent trader wishes to open in the Covered Market. However, we are concerned at the statement ‘identify other suitable traders in other regional cities’ with an interest in opening a unit in Oxford’. We hope this will be managed so that such traders are still independents and not chain operators.
8.15 Refurbishment is essential to improve the appearance of the Covered Market. We are puzzled at the description of grants as repayable. Surely interest free loans would be a more accurate description of what is being proposed. Grants normally refers to money which is not repaid.
Given the likely lengthy timescale for many of the suggested improvements to the market, and the need to improve footfall as soon as possible, a series of quick wins should be implemented as soon as possible:
Negotiations with the Highways Authority to move the traders parking to the other side of Market Street so that the entrances are more visible.
Temporary signage, such as the free standing flags now used for Gloucester Green market, to make the entrances on Market Street more visible.
Improving the offer on a Sunday. Not all traders want to or are able to open on a Sunday leaving parts of the market looking sad and empty, which means that people are less likely to visit the traders that are open. A table top Sunday craft market could make use of the frontages of the business that don't open creating a lively atmosphere and hopefully drawing in new people through local art and craft networks. This would also provide an outlet for smaller local craftspeople and additional revenue for the Council whilst acknowledging the identified desire amongst traders for extended opening hours.
9. Future Market Strategy
9.4 Charging a premium commercial rent for small independent traders who have just been required to invest substantial amounts in refurbishing their premises seems designed to cause severe financial difficulties and to invite in chain stores. Any increase in rents should only follow increased footfall and therefore increased business from the improvements proposed. When reviewing rents, data from high street shops is not suitable for benchmarking. The windows of high street business are accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, whereas the Covered Market gates are locked out of hours preventing people from viewing windows displays when the businesses are closed.
9.5 An application for EU funding should be properly supported and energetically pursued by the City Council.
9.6 We hope that any changes to existing leases will not be forced on traders, but will be part of more flexible leasing arrangements that don't deny traders their legal rights including under the Landlord and Tennant Act, force any traders into litigation, or act as a deterrent to independent traders.
Research Findings: 5 Trader Survey
Traders identify lack of parking and difficulty in using a car in Oxford as factors in the decline of footfall. No mitigating measures are proposed, e.g. Covered Market branded bus services, more cycle parking.
Independents are identified as a strength, yet the business plan makes no mention of ensuring that this remains so. In fact the proposed increased rents could lead to more chain stores and fewer independents unless there are targeted reduced rents for independent local businesses.
Although traders identify the cold as a problem there are no proposals for insulation improvements or enclosing the market.