Tag: stalled

Market failure

The remnants of Wood Street Market

Started a year ago with some fanfare, Wood Street Farmers’ Market has slowly withered away. For the first few months it served as a Christmas Market, with craft stalls to accompany the food stalls. It brought so much trade that many of the shops in Wood Street opened on the Sundays it was there. But after Christmas 2010, with most of the craft stalls gone, interest dropped. In late spring the food stalls started to abandon it too and the shops went back to being closed on Sundays. Now all that are left are a bread stall; two meat stalls — one selling burgers as a take-away as well as raw meat, the other just selling hot pork rolls — a photographer, and a burger stall selling candy floss.

In many ways Wood Street is the ideal place for a market, but with competition from the Sunday Farmers’ Market at the Designer Outlet — which many of the stallholders in Wood Street also attended — and little reason to visit Old Town on a Sunday apart from the market, it was always likely to struggle.


This week has not been a good one for the remaining street traders in Swindon town centre. Following Swindon Borough Council’s refusal to renew their trading licences for their current pitches, it is now taking five of them to court. They are accused, apparently, of obstruction. Seemingly seats by a mobile stall are an obstruction; seats outside a coffee shop are not, even when that shop is in a busier street.
Obstruction?Not an obstruction?
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the council’s planning officers have now waded in with a policy that contradicts what the traders might have once have been lead to believe by the head of licensing, Mr Starling. Back then, they were lead to believe that the council didn’t mind fast food stalls, just not in their present location.

The land in front of the old post office site in Fleming Way adjoins an area which has been cleared in anticipation of major redevelopment works. It enjoys a temporary ‘vacant’ status and does not suffer from conflicts of use. Short-term use of that space is desirable and street trading could fill that void…. Fast food trading may not be the ideal use for the site but the area has been plagued by drug dealers and street drinkers in the past and a strategically located fast food van could help to prevent their return. There are good reasons for rejecting hot food trading in the core of the town centre but this location offers a possible alternative location for use of that kind.

The planning officers take a different view.

Street Trading Pitches for the sale of hot food have a potential to have an impact on surrounding uses in terms of noise, smell, pollution. Unlike shop units it is difficult to provide adequate ventilation and filtration systems to mitigate these issues…. Associated litter and antisocial behaviour can also be a problem.
Therefore [hot food] pavement traders operating from mobile units and temporary stalls will not be supported within the Town Centre and Old Town area’s (sic) as defined within the adopted Swindon Central Area Action Plan (2009) (or as amended), unless part of an organised Market. They will also not be supported in Local or District Centres.

It’s increasingly looking as though the main aim of these policy changes is to put the stallholders permanently out of business.

Emptying the streets

Despite little having changed since Swindon Borough Council’s licensing committee last considered proposals to ban street traders from much of Swindon town centre, they have now approved the proposals. The only things that have changed are some strong objections from the owners of The Parade, and the appearance of proposals for repaving Regent Street. Those proposals talk of

De-cluttering the street, removing unnecessary items

yet on the same page encourage cluttering it again.

Encouragement of cafes and food outlets with street side seating areas.

It seems the council’s and New Swindon Company’s views are that a trailer selling doughnuts is bad, but a cafe selling doughnuts on the street is good. Reading the comments of shop-owners and developers, one could be forgiven for thinking that the rundown state of the town centre is entirely a consequence of a few street traders, and nothing to do with their inability to find occupants for now boarded-up shops.

These proposals do nothing to create a ‘vibrant street scene’ but go a very long way towards creating a bland one.

Starvation postponed… slightly

It’s refreshing to see that Swindon Borough Council’s licensing committee has had the sense to ignore, for the moment, its officers’ recommendation to ban street traders from much of Swindon town centre. It has postponed making a decision because, without more detail about the regeneration which putting street traders out of business is meant to support, the case wasn’t well made. I suspect that even with more detail, the case for removing street traders wouldn’t be obvious. We already know much about the New Swindon Company’s plans for degenerating regenerating the town centre. Even in some of the grander plans that have now failed, there was nothing that would justify removing the street traders from the existing pedestrianised area. There’s also nothing in the council’s own licensing policy that would justify such a move.

Unfortunately for the street traders, there’s not much cause for celebration, as the European Union has plans to make their lives more difficult too. The proposal for removing street traders contained this little EU gem.*

the EU Services Directive takes effect before the 2010 season and seems to decree that consents (which are not renewable) cannot be preferentially offered to incumbent traders but must instead be opened up to competition (randomly chosen from those meeting the standard, not determined by a bidding process).

So even if the council’s decision is put off indefinitely — rather like the town centre regeneration — the existing street traders may lose their pitches in an EU instigated lottery anyway.

Anyone remember the ‘principle of subsidiarity’?

*A few words of caution: in a quick search of the EU’s directives I couldn’t find this directive. I am, perhaps, putting too much trust in Swindon Borough Council’s Head of Licensing.

Starving the town centre

It seems that Swindon Borough Council are unaware that we’re in the midst of an economic recession. Six months after they forced several street traders to move, the council’s licensing committee is at it again, this time with more draconian measures. They now propose to exclude all street traders from the main pedestrianised streets in the town centre (Canal Walk, The Parade, Regent Street, Regent Circus, Edgeware Road and Bridge Street). This will displace street traders that have only just moved following the committee’s last attempt at stifling street trading.

So, not content with there already being many empty shops in the town centre, the council now wants to get rid of street traders too. Under the proposals, street trading will be allowed in very few town centre streets. Farmers and continental markets will be allowed in Wharf Green (it seems that the council likes those); fast food stalls will be exiled to the site of the post office at Fleming Way. The only good news for street traders is that the fees the council charges them will be decreased. Given how little trade some of the permitted streets will allow, that’s no comfort to the street traders.

This commercial vindictiveness is, supposedly, to help regenerate the town centre.

This proposal relates to the 2010 Promise 35 that we will take all necessary steps to secure the regeneration of the town centre.

As the proposals are backed by the New Swindon Company — the quango whose only tangible contribution to the town centre’s regeneration has been demolition — it’s no surprise that the proposals are totally illogical. If the town centre was thriving and the street traders were in some way dragging it down, perhaps there would be some sense to it. But it is not, and will not be for some years yet. To claim that removing street traders contributes to the regeneration of the town centre is like claiming that sanding down a few rust spots would allow a broken-down car to pass an MOT.

Swindon’s blue nest councillors should be ashamed of the authoritarian leanings that this policy displays.

Eating out

As I’ve noted elsewhere, one of the less pleasant experiences when stepping out from the Brunel Centre into Havelock Square is the rather sickly smell of cooking doughnuts. That said, I wouldn’t wish to deny anyone visiting Swindon town centre their dose of doughnuts, just not in such a cramped location. Swindon Borough Council has taken a different view, refusing licenses for both the doughnut seller and a hot-dog stall.

Hot food trailers and vans tend to function as portable shop units, operating in isolation. Where it appears that they are being used (or will be used) principally to save on costs relative to competing cafes and take-aways, a street trading consent will not normally be granted.

Where the infrastructure or trading opportunities are such that a fixed retail unit could not be justified or accommodated, a fast food trailer will be considered for consent.

’Tis an odd political world where a blue-nest controlled council is opposed to competition. The change in policy comes after what was described as ‘a comprehensive consultation exercise’ — so comprehensive that only four organisations were consulted. The logic underpinning the policy is also, to be generous, poor.

In all three cases it is plain that there is a significant customer demand for their services, otherwise they would not survived over a long period. In terms of location, that suggests that the stalls are conveniently placed for their customers. The desirability of the pitches from the commercial standpoint of the traders is not in any doubt. The question remains whether pedestrianised areas within retail developments are there for the benefit of shoppers and fixed retail premises or whether they are just another resource for accommodating additional commercial activity.

If someone chooses to buy something from one of these stalls, does that not make them a shopper? If ‘resource for accommodating additional commercial activity’ is such a bad thing why bother with the town centre regeneration?

Update: within a few days the doughnut seller has been granted a new pitch in The Parade.