Council asks public if it is best organisation to run market

People across Leeds being asked if they want the city's historic Kirkgate Market to carry on being run by the local authority.

Leeds City Council has this week launched a consultation to get the views of residents about how to improve the market when it is facing many pressures at a time of recession and public spending cuts.

There is increasing evidence that some traders are struggling at the market and the market's problems, including a reduction in visitors, reflect an historic decline in its traditional role as a key retail destination.

The council since the mid-1990s, has spent approximately 12m on investment and the general maintenance of Kirkgate Market, but councillors have been told that in addition to the challenges of the recession and increased competition, the market now needs extensive spending.

Following a fire in 1975 temporary buildings were put up at the market, but these now need urgent investment.

Council bosses have estimated around 2.4m needs to be spent, of which 600,000 is needed for imminent works.

Kirkgate Market is not alone in facing problems. Other local authorities have set up in partnership with a private company or other organisation, to run their markets, while others have sold them off to the private sector. As part of the consultation in Leeds members of the public are being asked if they consider the authority the best-placed to manage a business in the retail sector, and should all or some of the market profits be ring-fenced and reinvested back into the market among other key questions.

Coun Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council executive board member with responsibility for development and regeneration said: "It is crucial that we listen to what the general public, tenants, elected members and customers have to say, so that the council can better understand what people expect from Kirkgate Market.

"As the largest indoor market in the UK, Kirkgate market has the opportunity to position itself as the best in the country and encourage more shoppers to visit, as a tourist destination and a place to buy quality, locally-sourced food. It is important that we revive people's interest in the market and get people back to shopping locally."

A recent report to senior councillors warned: "Over the last couple of years there has been a growing national debate about the role and future of traditional markets. Locally the vitality, viability and condition of Kirkgate market has been the subject of recent media, public and member discussion. Tenants have raised issues of the state of the buildings, the level of investment in them, the limited marketing undertaken, rental and service charge levels, falling levels of footfall and the cost of adjacent car parking.

"Many people feel that these factors, combined with increased retail competition and changing customer expectations, are threatening the future of the market and the viability of many of its traders."

In the past 12 months there have been a number of new initiatives to try to encourage people to visit the market including Jamie's Ministry of Food, which was introduced in the summer of last year, and also the Bazaar, an Asian market, which opens every Wednesday on the open market.

A number of initiatives have been introduced by the council to try to support new and existing businesses and increase visitor numbers.

These include developing a new website for traders and customers, a rent-free start up period for new tenants and a regular tenant newsletter.

The consultation will run until February 7.

To access the survey log on to the Leeds Markets website www.leedsmarkets.co.uk

People can also pick up a copy at any of Kirkgate Market's 12 cafes, or at the markets information centre and sending it back to the freepost address provided.