Empty Markets and Town Managers – is this the way to promote recovery?

Much has been reported in our local press about the sorry state of Brownhills Market. For decades, it attracted customers from far and wide during it’s twice weekly heyday. It managed to survive both in good times and during previous recessions, but sadly the last trader packed his van and departed some months ago, despite the money Walsall Council spent providing new pitches and other improvements. As the picture taken below last Tuesday shows, what used to be a once bustling and thriving hive of commercial activity, is now no more than an eerie looking space – albeit a rather expensive one. 

Brownhills Market - fit for skateboards and BMX's only

 Many reasons have been cited for the market’s decline, Tesco have been labelled one culprit which is somewhat unfair, as many Tesco shoppers actually went to the market either before or after their weekly shop – I certainly did. No, the main reasons include; increased prices for pitches, illegal traders operating around the fringes, increasing numbers of fast food and charity shops in the high street and the general run down of the main precinct, all have contributed to it’s eventual decline. We now hear that the future of the market cannot be determined until 2011 at the earliest, and seems to depend on the successful Tesco re-development. One wonders if traders will want to come back once  they have been away for so long, or is this a cunning plan by Tesco, to turn the site into an overflow car park when their new superstore is finally built? 

Recently Walsall Council appointed three new “Town Managers” whose brief is to work with traders in the main borough district centres, to promote and improve the areas as part of the Shop Smart, Shop Local scheme. Laudable though it is, one cannot help the feeling that the budget for this project would have been better spent on rate reductions for the traders that currently remain in business, or to offer incentives to traders similar to those given to charity shops in terms of rate reductions or zero rates for a defined period. Two of the young ladies who have taken up their positions certainly look attractive enough from the photo in the papers, but it will take more than a couple of pretty faces to re-generate many of our district centres and alleviate some of the worst affects of high street decline. 

Personally, I think this increasingly looks like another cosmetic, box-ticking exercise, so beloved of the recently departed and unmourned Government. What traders need is help and support, by removing much of the invidious level of taxation and red tape they have been burdened with over the last decade or so. 

Give our small high street businesses the freedom from the shackles of unfair taxes and suffocating bureaucracy and they will learn to thrive again on their own. Enterprise is best encouraged when it is incentivized, it is this local dynamism which will bring shoppers back to the high street.  Tesco or no Tesco, both can live with each other if given freedom to manoeuvre: and that’s how you promote real recovery locally!!

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