Chester market needs to shrink to halt decline, says council

Cheshire West & Chester Council is to seek ministerial permission, required by the Chester Corporation Act, to reduce the size of the city's indoor market from 35,500 sq ft to 25,000 sq ft.

The decision was approved at a council meeting this week where Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and recreation, told members that the state of the building was causing concern and occupancy had declined. Revenue has fallen from £439,000 in 2009/10 to £400,000 in 2010/11.

The council said it is consulting with traders on its intention to relocate the facility within a new purpose-built market hall – opposed by certain traders – but this will not happen before 2015.

In the meantime, the council wants to stem decline and remove vacant stalls by reducing the size of the market. This, councilors say, will add to the vitality of the market.

Parker said: "The market is tired, and in decline. We need to act to stem that decline. Bizarrely our first move will have to be to discover just which minister we need to apply to for permission under the 1929 Chester Corporation Act."

A 30-page report before members from surveyors at DTZ concluded: "The Council is subsidising the market operation to a significant degree and is not in a position to make any major investment in the foreseeable future.

"Furthermore, given the low level returns being generated by the market, it is unlikely that the council could justify significant new investment in purely business terms.

"Rents would need to be increased and service charges, even under subsidised arrangement, would rise to allow recovery of that part of the expenditure recoverable under the existing leases.

"The substantial financial contribution required from tenants over the medium term and the uncertain future of the current site would be likely to encourage some stallholders to relinquish their tenancies and discourage new tenants from joining the market."

The report adds: "In view of the ongoing problem of lack of profile, it is highly unlikely that traders' turnover would increase to a level sufficient to render large rent and service charge increases affordable.

"It is clear that action has to be taken to stem the decline and in our view, the best solution in the circumstances surrounding the market is a reduction in floorspace, coupled with planned essential maintenance and the operational improvements agreed and ongoing."

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