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Berwick Street traders clash with council officials over plan to privatise Soho market

Berwick Street

Campaigners including Robin Smith (wearing hat) and Labour’s Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg (centre at the back) pictured after Tuesday’s meeting

Published: 29 July, 2016
by ALINA POLIANSKAYA

TRADERS clashed with council officials this week at a packed public meeting about the future of their market.

Berwick Street stall traders aired their frustrations at the event in the Chinese Community Centre in Leicester Court on Tuesday and called for a halt to the tender process.

Many raised concerns about noise and dust from construction work and uncertainty that hangs over Westminster Council’s plan to hand over the running of the market to a private operator.

The council says it wants an “experienced provider” to take over the market and bring it “up to its full potential” but traders say they know how best to run the market successfully.

Robin Smith, from the Soho Dairy, said: “The big things that need to be sorted are infrastructure. There are no lavatories, washing facilities, storage, parking; it’s all been sold. If we are going to make the market better there is going to have to be investment in infrastructure.”

He added: “If it is about creating a successful, thriving Berwick Street Market which has a traditional produce and a Soho twist then we are interested.”

Mr Smith thumped a stack of papers down on the table. It included more than 33,000 signatures on a petition to “keep Berwick Street Market independent”.

Despite the council bringing in new traders to set up pitches, many are now uncertain of what would happen to their business under new management and if they would get to keep their pitch if costs went up.

Mr Smith said that price increases would be difficult for traders of fresh produce, as “margins are small” so “if your rate goes up, you don’t survive”.

Many said they have been calling for basic provision for the market for many years, such as storage units and proper waste collection. But they felt not much had been done and now they were “going back to square one”.

Sam Coe, from Sam’s Soho Supplies, told the West End Extra it was “frightening” not knowing what the future held, but they would not go down without a fight.

The council’s project manager, Roger Austin, said part of the plan was to ensure the market was “still affordable” under a new operator, as many feared costs would go up under a new provider. There was talk of traders putting a bid together themselves and running the market as a not-for-profit scheme.

Residents of nearby Kemp House came out in solidarity with those who work on the market. Andrew Murray, a member of the Soho Society who lives in Kemp House, told the council: “You’re not happy to deal with the past basically.”

The council said a procurement had opened on July 15 and a new operator would be chosen around November, aiming to take over the market by April next year.

There was a full show of hands when the room was asked if they were in favour of delaying the search for an operator for a few months.

Council officials declined to promise a delay, but they did agree to meet a smaller group of traders before the deadline for applications.

The council’s director of economy Greg Ward, who chaired the meeting, said he was “encouraged” by the discussion.

But Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, who attended the event said: “Tuesday’s meeting was unanimous in calling for a halt to the tender process to find a market operator as this will only lead to higher rents and will force many traders out of business. Residents, too, were right behind the traders’ demands that council should stop trying to destroy the market. 

“Instead the council should do everything possible to work closely with existing Berwick Street market traders to enable them to make a success of their businesses.”

Comments

Moratorium

Everyone in the meeting wanted a 6 month delay.

The council officials three times refused to even consider it.

Not even wishing to ask their lawyers how they could delay it.

Westminster Council's Conservative leaders and their property developer mates are stitching up this 300 year old market and one of the few genuinely community spaces in the heart of Soho in Central London. Westminster Council.

Not one Tory Councillor from West End ward turned up. They should hang their heads in shame.

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