People power forces re-think on Market Hall plans
SHOCK new proposals could see Harborough’s indoor Market Hall saved.
In a surprise twist in the saga, Harborough District Council has published a report showing how it can fund a £5.4m refurbishment of its headquarters without turfing traders out of the hall in favour of a big name retailer.
The authority had previously said its plans were dependent on securing a quality retailer for the hall, which would have seen the market moved to the controversial Fox Yard site at the rear of the council HQ.
But widespread opposition to the plans and uncertainty over whether a lease agreement for the Market Hall with a major retailer could be secured looks to have prompted a change of heart.
A report produced for the council’s Transformation Board set up to discuss the proposals recommends keeping the market where it is but focus on making more money out of the hall, possibly by opening it seven days a week and adapting its layout to allow specialist exhibitions and fairs to be held.
Traders, who had vehemently opposed plans to move them, reacted jubilantly to the publication of the report on Friday.
Trader John Cleaver told the Mail: “As far as I’m concerned it’s the best news we could have had, it’s the best news the public could have and I think it’s the best news for the council too, because it gets rid of all the problems they’ve had with this over the last six months.
“If all goes well then they’re planning to invest in the hall and I think they want our co-operation. We will do everything in our power to help them make this market even more successful.”
Widespread opposition to proposals to move traders out of the Market Hall and a lack of guarantees over securing a big-name retailer to replace them prompted the surprise re-think.
The council revealed in January its plans to move traders as part of a regeneration of its Adam and Eve Street HQ.
The authority is under huge financial pressure in the light of a reduction of about £4m over the last two years in the money it receives from Government.
Its HQ has twice the office space required and the council says it needs extensive refurbishment, which it planned to fund by leasing both the ground floor and the Market Hall building for retail.
The proposals were part of the council’s larger Transformation Programme to save £3m over the next five years by changing the way it operates.
Only last month Cllr Rook spoke passionately to the Mail about proposals to move traders, saying an outdoor market could bring added vibrancy to the town.
But vehement resistance from traders and shoppers, including a street march and 17,000-signature petition, combined with results from the public consultation, which also demonstrated strong opposition against the plans, seems to have forced the apparent about-face.
The new report reveals the council received seven ‘informal expressions of interest’ from retailers to lease the hall, including one from an ‘incumbent food retailer’ – understood by the Mail to be Sainsbury’s, though the supermarket giant denied this week making an offer on any basis.
An offer by an unnamed firm to buy the hall and the car park next door was also received, reveals the report, but it was below the market value.
Only two offers were formalised in letter-form and the report expresses concern over the potential for any deal to fall through.
The new option to keep traders where they are would still allow the council to regenerate its HQ.
The scheme would be part-funded by a £1.6m grant from Leicestershire County Council but it would require an investment of £2m from council reserves to make up the cash shortfall from not leasing the hall to a major retailer.
The Transformation Board is to meet at the Adam and Eve Street HQ tomorrow (Friday) at 9.30am for a public meeting to discuss the options before recommendations are made to full council.
A final decision on how to proceed will be made at the next meeting of full council on April 30.
Council leader Mike Rook said: “During extensive consultation there has been widespread support for the council to remain in its central location. Thankfully, this report concludes that we can do so and deliver better value for local people by redeveloping the Adam and Eve Street building.
“I’m interested to see that we might fund that redevelopment while retaining the market in the Market Hall, which has been widely supported by people in the town.
“We will assess the relative risks and rewards of this approach alongside others before we make a recommendation to council.”
Harborough resident David Johnson, who has campaigned to save the Market Hall, said: “This change of heart has been most welcome. It is a victory for public opinion in this town.
“It has been democracy and people power at its very best. I hope the district council will adopt this recommendation, and that everyone will get behind the traders and support a new regime for the Market Hall.”
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Weather for Market Harborough
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 4 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North west