Multi-million pound plans to revitalise markets in Wakefield, Pontefract, Castleford, South Elmsall, Ossett and Normanton revealed
Proposals to breathe new life into the Wakefield's district six local markets have been revealed.
Wakefield Council is expected to pledge nearly £5m to improve markets at Ossett, Pontefract, Castleford, Normanton, South Elmsall and Wakefield city centre.
Plans for each individual market have been drawn up, but trying to make all six venues more attractive in an increasingly difficult world for the area's 240 traders is the policy's main thrust.
But there appears to be no prospect of rents coming down before improvements are made, which several stallholders have called for in recent years. A review of rates is likely to be carried after the work is completed in 2021, however.
Provided the cash is approved, Pontefract and Castleford's market halls will be given big refurbishments, with their entrances to be made brighter and more welcoming. New lighting and signage will be installed.
Traders at South Elmsall Market will be pushed closer to the high street with empty stalls at the venue removed. The council says this would allow it to do business six days a week - up from its current two days of activity. A new cafe and social space could be created too, while there are plans for improved access between stalls and the main car park.
Stall holders at Normanton Market will also be moved closer to the town's main high street, with older underused units being disposed of. However, a report going before senior councillors on Tuesday strikes a downbeat tone on the venue, saying it faces "significant challenges" and that the number of traders is "unlikely to grow" regardless of investment.
With regard to Ossett, Wakefield and Pontefract's outdoor markets, the council plans to build "permanent high quality" units for stalls to improve their layouts and attractiveness.
A pot of cash for traders wanting to make their stalls more appealing will be provided and the council says it will no longer set income targets for the markets as a way of easing pressure on them.
The plans will be discussed by the council's Cabinet next week.
Coun Darren Byford, portfolio holder for economic growth and regeneration, said: “Although the usage of markets has undoubtedly declined over the years, as consumer shopping habits have changed, the council recognises that they are an integral part of our city and town centres and provide an important focal point and social experience for many residents.
"We also know they provide access to local, fresh produce and an excellent environment for small businesses to start up and grow.
"It is important that we can offer quality markets that can compete and evolve as the use of the high street continues to change but they must also be sustainable and that’s why we will also be setting more realistic expectations of the income our markets generate to ensure we can focus on their development."
The plans have been drawn up following an in depth review of all of the local markets.
Traders across the district have been struggling with falling footfall for several years, while Wakefield Market's move into a custom-built indoor hall in 2008 was a commercial disaster, closing just a decade later.
However, the report outlined the varying fortunes of each of the six markets: while Castleford Market is expected to turn over a profit of £154,000 this year, Normanton makes around £7,500 a year, and along with South Elmsall, is believed to be hamstrung by competition from other shops and markets.
Last year, the council's head of markets, Ben Cook, urged traders to avoid packing up and leaving early to avoid creating the perception that the markets were closed.
Some stallholders at South Elmsall, where Mr Cook said early departures was an issue, countered that by arguing trade often wasn't strong enough to justify staying until closing time.
Local Democracy Reporting Service