Plans for reopening Northampton's Market Square backed by cabinet despite opposition concerns

Traders, who were moved to a temporary site on Commercial Street car park at the beginning of 2023, will have the opportunity to move back to Market Square this summer.
Traders, who were moved to a temporary site on Commercial Street car park at the beginning of 2023, will have the opportunity to move back to Market Square this summer. -Credit:Nadia Lincoln LDRS

Cabinet members on West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) have approved plans detailing the reopening of the new £12 million Market Square at the end of summer 2024.

The opposition has contended the plans, asking if the administration is attempting to "kill off" longstanding traders to bring in the private sector. The portfolio holder strongly denied this and said he is looking forward to welcoming traders back into the square.

Rents have been confirmed as £15 a day for a pop-up stall, £30 to use one of the new cabins, and £30 a day for mobile food units. To help secure their future in the new Northampton markets, 'eligible' traders will be offered a period of six months free on pop-up stalls and food van pitches.

Traders will also be provided with a package of support including formal business training and a mentor. No definition of 'eligble' traders has yet been given, however it is said to cover those who traded for "significant periods".

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They will also have to submit a business plan showing they are ‘likely to have a successful business’ to be able to rent out a stall.

The council has also presented its intentions to create specialist and event markets, such as vintage clothing, vinyl records, farmers, Christmas, and continental markets. It aims to hold 15 of these specialist markets in 2025, increasing to 26 events a year by 2028.

Shadow cabinet member for town centre regeneration and growth, Cllr Koulla Jolley said: "We do not have a market if we have no traders, so why are we treating the existing traders without any consideration for their livelihood?

"Are these plans for the current administration to kill off the market traders and bring in the private sector run market?

"They are long-standing traders that had viable businesses before they moved - why should they now be required to prove they can run a business?

"Will traders and councillors be able to see WNC’s own business plan for the market, as the council predicts there will be a net loss every year until 2030? Maybe we need some formal business training and not just the market traders."

The report states that fees for the stalls will change each year, and if necessary more frequently, typically reflecting inflation but also changes in demand and performance of traders.

Cllr Sally Beardsworth (Lib Dems) warned: "We really have to make sure that we don’t price our existing market traders out of business by putting other people in there who are prepared to pay more and be more costly."

The council is projecting a net loss of £73k in 2025/26, falling to £18k losses in 2029/30. Overall market operating costs are thought to be £329k per year.

The refurbished square will contain 19 pop-up stalls in the core area, a maximum of 26 additional stalls in the events space, 16 fixed cabins and 10 mobile food units.

All pop-up tent stalls would have to be packed away at the end of the day and put up again each morning, costing £40,000 a year if done in-house. The authority has said that this step, along with improved lighting, will be used to tackle levels of anti-social behaviour which was a major issue with the previous site.

Cllr Dan Lister, portfolio holder for local economy, culture & leisure, said: "Firstly I want to express my thanks to the traders who have continued on at Commercial Street and I'm looking forward to welcoming them back on the square.

"I'm pleased to report strong interest in the square from both existing and new traders.

"I just thought it would be interesting for the cabinet and members of the public to hear how many times Cllr Jolley has emailed me about the issues that she’s raised tonight- zero. There’s no intent to kill off the existing market traders, that’s a fallacy.

"[The market] is operating at a net loss, as I said, the other alternative to stop this making a loss is to put the rent up equally high which we don’t want to do.

"It is important to understand that the market to us is not purely a commercial operation, but it also contributes to the vibrancy of Northampton town centre."

The cabinet approved the market development plan on Tuesday, May 7. The procurement of specialist and event market operators by the council can now begin.