New ideas for Winchester’s thriving markets programme

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Winchester City Council is collecting evidence to inform the next steps for the development of its busy programme of markets.

The markets have been a huge hit with visitors and with many regular shoppers. Since their introduction to the High Street in 2010, the presentation, line-up and location of the stalls has continued to evolve.

Following discussions with the Business Improvement District (BID) to review the Christmas trading period, the Council is set to consider further ideas to develop the markets to ensure maximum benefits to shoppers and retailers alike.

The current programme of markets was introduced to add vitality to the High Street at a time when cities around the country were anxious about the effects of the recession. It brings fresh food and produce in the High Street on a Wednesday, general provisions from Thursday to Saturday and a series of speciality markets on Sunday which include the long-standing Hampshire Farmers’ Markets.

Face-to-face research carried out in the central shopping streets by Tourism South East at the end of 2011 found that “94% of local residents and 95% of non-residents felt that the markets made the experience of visiting Winchester more enjoyable”. Some 85% of local people and 92% of visitors felt that “markets added to the vitality and vibrancy of the city centre”. Meanwhile 83% of local people stated that the “markets offered a greater variety of goods”. The markets were considered to be an example of good practice by national consultants carrying out a retail ‘health check’ of the city centre in 2013.

However, there have been continued concerns expressed through the BID about the frequency and location of the markets. Congestion, unfair competition, intrusion on the street scene, restricted access, smells and rubbish on the streets have all been cited over the years. Combined with the additional challenge of restricted parking capacity at Christmas, they claim, this means that regular customers delayed or cancelled shopping trips or visits to the hairdresser or dentist and loyal, high-value local shoppers went elsewhere.

The BID has consistently called for the markets to be reduced in number and removed from the High Street, and the Council is now carrying out an in-depth review of the markets ahead of a Cabinet decision in late March.

Eloise Appleby, the City Council’s Assistant Director for Economy and Communities, said: “The markets were introduced to support our year-round retailing offer at the height of the recession. We believe that this very successful programme has protected footfall in the city centre in recent years, and enhanced Winchester’s reputation as a shopping destination.

“However, the original market plans were intended to be temporary, with the development of Silver Hill offering new opportunities. With the timetable for Silver Hill slipping, I believe that now is a good time to review the markets programme and make some decisions about its future shape and form.”

The Council is commissioning independent research from The Retail Group into the views of BID members about the markets. This will also consider proposals for changes to the current location, and gather other suggestions for developments. It is part of a package of evidence – including the BID’s regular ‘Business Barometer’, parking statistics, footfall data and feedback from the Cathedral – on which decisions will be made.

Catherine Turness, Executive Director at the BID, added: “We are pleased to have helped bring this review about by voicing the feedback from our members. Working with the Council, we have already seen a number of changes to the original line-up and presentation of stalls but the frequency and location can result in congestion, especially at Christmas, which deters some clients and customers from visiting the city. It makes sense, five years on, to pause and take stock of the whole programme. I would urge all businesses in the town to respond to the survey when they are visited by The Retail Group in the coming weeks.”