What has happened in the ensuing 3 months. Not much to be perfectly frank. A lot of speculation, a lot of promises but not much has happened. The 3 groups have not met nor have any meetings been scheduled as far as I know. The long list of improvements including a sound system for the Market and heaters for upstairs in the food court area, all much discussed but nothing has yet materialised. The heaters are expected to be installed end of March 2015... Since being advised of this end of February things have gone very quiet on this front again. Soon we won't be needing them until next winter.
With the delayed opening of the Market late last year, the New Market was always going to limp through as winter took hold. Without at least 3 months of warm weather to form new habits around the market, many people have just taken the easy warmer option and gone elsewhere.
As The Mayor Dorothy Thornhill said in her interview with me (you can watch hers and all other candidates interviews here) there was speculation about the impact of moving the market to the new location, but that this had been grossly underestimated. In effect what we have is a brand new market, a brand new proposition, and it has to be rebuilt from the ground up.
What can be done then? The bottom line is that these traders had decent businesses in the old location. They have accommodated the change to what is ostensibly an outside market, in many cases they now have smaller units too. They have operated through the challenging winter months and most have stuck it out. They have switched to operating 5 days as opposed to 3 in the old market, the net effect of which is to spread the equivalent revenue (although this has been down as much as 60% in the new location)... but... Incur 2 additional days operating costs, especially where staff are involved. This has further eroded profits.
If we are not to witness a mass exodus from the new market and perhaps a return to the street market of old where the daily stalls are now, then some serious decisions need to be taken.
Personally I would suggest a return to a 3 day market Tuesday, Friday and Saturday for the moment, this is supported by most if not all traders, reducing their costs and increasing business on the days open... Exception to this might be the food court during the summer months perhaps. A waiving of the rents for a period of 6 months to get the traders positive and supportive of growing the market and rebuilding the badly damaged bridges between them, Town & Country and the council. A proper 'New Market working team' needs putting in place too, one that meets regularly (bi-weekly) to get the long list of much needed deliverables delivered and to do some effective marketing.
Everyone has to take some responsibility for what has happened, not expect the market traders to solely continue funding it through their losses. I think Town & Country need to look long and hard at the idea of raising the 'rents' and if money is tight then the council will have to look at reducing their revenue expectations too.
Positive final words...
Mother's Day event. There was an Italian Market yesterday and we've also got an animal petting zoo event coming up around Easter plus further events scheduled during the coming months (check the New Watford Market website here)
For those interested in attending (would be a great opportunity for those standing for office to get along too) there is a meeting at the New Watford Market with all the traders this Tuesday evening 5pm, 24th March upstairs... This could be 'D' Day for the Market...
** Credits for photographs +Diane Richardson and +Chris Ogle