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Fears for Norwich market’s future as 41 stalls stand empty

Some of the unoccupied stalls at Norwich Market.

Some of the unoccupied stalls at Norwich Market.

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More than a fifth of stalls in Norwich Market are standing empty, and today there are calls for City Hall – and the public – to do more to help it thrive.

The traders’ view

Here’s what traders on the market had to say.

■ Carole Black, from Norwich Goldsmiths, said: “Anything that brings more people to the market is good, even more food stores, as all people want to eat and drink.

“The increasing amount of empty stores is worrying.”

■ Shaun Reid, at No.6 Shoe Repairs, said: “Empties are a big issue. There are far too many empty stores. More food stores wouldn’t impact my business, though if I had a food store, I’d feel differently.”

■ Robert Folland, from Folland Organics said: “If a new store comes in copying another, its no good, people are attracted to diversity. The empties are incredibly disheartening.”

■ Barry Butcher, from Ron’s Fish and Chips, said: “I think the council have got the balance right. It’s a real job filling the stores up.

“The market is struggling already, more food stores would damage it. We can’t just have all food stores.”

A snapshot survey of the city’s famous market found that 21pc of the stalls are currently vacant, with traders speaking of their concerns over the impact that has on footfall.

Meanwhile, there are claims Norwich City Council, which says 41 of the 189 stalls are empty, is making it too hard for new stallholders to set up shop.

Today, council bosses were urged to do more to bring new business to the area – while a call to arms has also gone out to the public to give it more support.

But city council bosses insist they are committed to making the market, which was reopened in 2006 after a £4m-plus revamp, a success.

Use it or lose it

Norwich’s two MPs have encouraged people to use Norwich market, or risk losing it.

Chloe Smith, pictured below, Norwich North MP, said: “We all want to see Norwich market vibrant and healthy, and for it to be run with common sense. I try to use the market whenever I can, and I think it’s one of the real strengths of our city.

“I will join forces with the Evening News to encourage people to use it and love it.”

She added she was such a fan of the market that she bought her wedding day earrings there.

Norwich South MP Simon Wright said: “Ultimately, for the long-term future of the market, it’s absolutely crucial that people make the most of what we have in the heart of our city.

“It contributes so much to the vitality of our city centre and of course we need to support it.”

Current Norwich Market stalls

The debate comes after a petition questioning the council’s approach garnered more than 200 signatures. George Colley, 24, set it up after he was knocked back with his application to open a stone baked pizza oven stall on the market.

Mr Colley, who lives off Earlham Road, said: “I applied to them and was told they would have to turn me down. They said they have reached their quota for food and refreshment stalls.

“They say their policy is for a ‘broad mix’ and that because of that they are not accepting any more applications. But the way commerce is going, I think the market needs to change.

“I have a sister who is 17 and she’s never been on the market as there’s no reason to. I don’t want to see more stalls close; I want a younger generation to enjoy the market as it was enjoyed so many years ago. Times have changed and we need to accept that.”

Among those who signed Mr Colley’s petition was Alex Cooper, of Nom Catering, one of three street traders behind the Feast On The Street collective, which holds monthly events at The Forum.

He said: “This is something I investigated at the birth of my business and had blank expressions and bewilderment at my request of starting in the market. Support is non-existent and the politics of the market stalls is ridiculous.”

However, a spokesman for Norwich City Council said the issue was not as simple as making one of the empty stalls available to Mr Colley. She said: “There are 41 food businesses on the market, some of which rent more than one stall. These are comprised of 15 low risk and 20 high risk – high risk being those requiring specific utilities such as electricity, gas, water and drainage.

“Businesses preparing and cooking food on-site require these facilities under current Food and Safety Act legislation. We do not currently have any of these kinds of stalls available for rent and this is the category of stall which would be required for making and selling pizza.

“Norwich Market is important to the city and our plan is to work with traders to make it as successful as possible.”

She added: “Our policy is to ensure there is a broad mix of products and services on offer at Norwich Market, so it is as vibrant and diverse as possible. We also have a duty to be fair to our existing stallholders.”

The spokesman added: “We promote the market in various ways. Just last week we had a Making Markets Matter national event there to raise its profile.

“We also use our Citizen magazine and advertise in the national Markets magazine. We would be keen to hear from anyone who has a business requiring a standard stall to contact us if they are interested in trading on Norwich Market.”

The council leased 14 stalls between July 1 last year and July 1 this year.

Mr Colley’s petition is at http://chn.ge/1svhC5h

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