Local authorities must work pro-actively and strategically with the market industry and traders so that markets fulfil their potential.
The Government must ensure that relevant planning guidance recognises all the benefits delivered by thriving markets and should give one ministry - Communities and Local Government (CLG) - a clear remit to provide a national focus for market-related policy and legislation.
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee has completed an investigation into traditional retail markets. This examined whether local authorities and central government could support them more effectively.
Launching a report, 'Market Failure?: Can the traditional market survive?', Committee Chairman Phyllis Starkey says:
"Traditional markets - our oldest form of exchange - are not just a key part of our heritage. Successful markets deliver many diverse benefits to our towns and communities. Economic benefits are perhaps the most obvious, but the social value of markets and the community cohesion they encourage are equally important. Markets can also help regenerate town centres, promote healthy eating and support 'greener' lifestyles and more sustainable patterns of commerce.
"Some local authorities have already developed innovative, long-term strategies to realise the full potential of their markets. Many more should follow this best practice."
The Committee concludes that oversight of retail markets at a national level is too fragmented. Several departments maintain a partial interest in them but none drive an agenda to promote their full potential. The Committee argues that to improve the Government’s engagement one ministry - CLG - should become the clear first point of contact to which the market industry and local authorities can take concerns about legislation and other 'big picture' issues affecting retail markets in England.
Phyllis Starkey adds:
"Planning guidance should reflect all the contributions that markets can make to town centres and CLG should lead an inter-departmental working group that can ensure all departments use markets to help deliver wider objectives such as job creation, support for small business, value for money, healthy eating, increased footfall in our town centres, a stronger social focus and more robust community character."
The Committee recognises the financial and management challenges facing local authorities seeking to sustain and develop their markets, but sees grounds for optimism. It identifies best practice to support big metropolitan markets or smaller, local markets and recommends local authorities:
- improve dialogue with market traders
- ensure town centre planning decisions complement markets and act in sympathy with their role and function
- designate market champions at a senior level within the council
- consider sharing the cost of joint market champions and market operators where expertise is limited and funding tight
- explore funding opportunities through prudent borrowing and by attracting Government, private sector or third sector funding in pursuit of shared goals
- assess the benefits of co-operation with the private sector, using longer-term contracts in line with other European experience
- work with the market industry to promote markets, recruit new traders and train existing traders and market managers
The Committee also acknowledges the further dimension that specialist markets can add, and encourages councils to treat applications for farmers’ markets sympathetically given the potential benefits they can offer, whether in proximity to existing markets or in isolation.
Finally, the Committee concludes a strong case exists for London authorities to gain greater powers in respect of their street markets. The Committee urges London local authorities and CLG to change the relevant provisions of the London Local Authorities Act 1990 and other legislation specific to individual Boroughs, mindful of the need to work in partnership with market trader organisations.