Leicester Market: Disagreement reigns supreme among residents over new plans

Raven Nelson pictured in Leicester
-Credit: (Image: Leicester Mercury)

Shoppers in the city have said they are "disgusted" the plan for Leicester Market has been paused - but some have also given a cautious welcome to the alternative ideas being considered. They spoke to LeicestershireLive following the news that the regeneration of the historic attraction had been paused, and that the market itself might be moved to a yet-to-be created space off nearby Cank Street.

City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby announced yesterday (Wednesday, May 22) that he had paused the regeneration to allow the council time to “consider other options”. He said that as well as possibly moving the stalls away from their traditional home permanently, the old Market Place could be left as an open square to host festivals and specialist markets. Sir Peter said he was “more than half convinced” the area in front of the historic Corn Exchange should become an open space which could host festivals, specialist markets and celebrations such as the recent Leicester City promotion parade, and generally serve as “an important meeting place at the heart of the city centre”.

We spoke to people in Green Dragon Square, where the market was temporarily relocated while the now-paused regenerations work was carried out. Some said they had doubted the scheme would ever happen. Some said they did not want the market to be relocated. And others said they backed the mayor's suggestions and liked the idea of opening up the area in question to create more "space" in the city centre.

READ MORE: Leicester market traders feel betrayed over 'broken promises' after news they may never return to historic home

It is fair to say it appears to be an issue on which residents are greatly divided.

Jacqueline Wilton, 65, from Aylestone, said she believed the city mayor was “playing with people’s livelihoods” by announcing the pause of the regeneration. “I would like to know his bigger picture, what his intentions are for the city,” she said. “He is playing with people’s livelihoods. Some of these [stalls] have been there for 20, 30 years, and he doesn’t seem to be considering that."

The move to Green Dragon Square in itself was a controversial one for stallholders, who feared they would lose customers as a result. Ms Wilton said: “A lady that moved up here [to Green Dragon Square], a friend of mine, is doing something else because she cannot make this pay. They haven’t subsidised the rent, they just took them up here and dumped them.

“There are several businesses that are gone and it is almost like he wanted to get rid of it. [I think] his aim is just, 'demolish people’s morale to make a smaller market'.”

However, Ms Wilton was positive about potential changes. “I actually like his view for the city,” she said. “He is just doing it in a very dishonest and underhand manner, in my opinion.”

Early artist's impression of what the Cank Street link market could look like
Early artist's impression of what the Cank Street link market could look like -Credit:Leicester City Council

Approval was given earlier this year to knock through 14 and 16 Market Place North to create a walkway between Green Dragon Square and Cank Street, using the car park on the Cank Street side as a new trading area, though not specifically for the market. Their neighbours at numbers 12, 18 and 20 were to be refurbished with the intention of renting them out. However, early ideas for reworking the plans now suggest each of numbers 12 to 20 Market Place could be demolished and the space opened up there be the market's new home.

Another possibility being considered by the council is leaving traders in Green Dragon Square, Sir Peter said.

Raven Nelson, 27, of Leicester, questioned how often the proposed new Market Place area would hold “open air events”. She said: “I don’t really know why they are doing it, if it’s just going to become an empty space here. It’s just going to be crackheads getting high. In Green Dragon Square [before the market moved], the benches were just full of homeless people and crackheads. It will just be [those people and] people spouting religious stuff. It's just a waste of money.”

John Williamson, 52, of the city's West End, said he believed it was “obvious” that the council was not ultimately going to keep the market in the same place. He added: “It’s a shame. I have always used the market on my way home. In a way, it's the heart of the city.” However, he said he believed the proposed idea of a new space would “open up the buildings”.

Paddy Mccullough, originally from Belfast, has lived in Leicester for 20 years. He said he believed change could be a good thing for the area. I think the whole notion of having more open spaces and views of the beauty that we have got is quite important,” he said.

Aerial picture of the demolished Leicester Market space
Aerial picture of the demolished Leicester Market space -Credit:2024 Matt Short Photography

"I think a market here on Cank Street might work. But I am an optimist, I want everything to work. However, I won’t speak on anybody’s behalf. I think change is tough on lots of people, but at some point it's going to happen anyhow.

“I read figures that [Leicester is] attracting more tourists, and if you want a city to thrive, make it as beautiful as you can make it.”

However, Adam Law, 47, from Newbold Verdon, said: “I personally don't think it's a good idea [to make the market square an open space], because surely that area isn't big enough. I kind of like it, but as opposed to putting the market along here I don't think it's a good idea."

Tammy, 59, of Tudor Road, in Leicester, said: “I grew up with the market that they pulled down, with all the fruit and veg. I don't like the changes [Sir Peter is] making to the city."

A 64-year-old man from Mountsorrel who did not want to be named, said he believed the pause was “disgusting”. He said: “It’s been here for 800 years now. You cannot do that. The idea of tearing it down is that they are going to rebuild it. That’s what we were told."

He said the city already had open areas such as Jubilee Square, Abbey Park and Victoria Park to hold big events. He said: “We need a change in terms of Mr Soulsby.”

Sir Peter added in his announcement yesterday that for the majority of its centuries, the market served as a meeting place in the city, featuring events from Suffragette rallies to coronation celebrations. By pausing the regeneration, Leicester City Council could now take the time to fully explore its future potential, he said.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one who watched the old market roof come down and was blown away by what was revealed,” he told a Press meeting. “As the demolition team cleared the site, I was struck by the scale of the space and the quality of the surrounding architecture. It made me ask myself if we were missing an opportunity to do something really special.

“If we install new permanent infrastructure on the site – with stalls that would be used for just eight hours a day, six days a week – we won’t be able to use this extraordinary space for anything else. And once those new stalls are in place, they’ll probably be there for the next 30 years.

“We therefore have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something quite bold – and that’s to reconsider our plans and create the impressive, flexible space for large-scale public events that we currently don’t have in Leicester city centre.”