Threatened market told to go 'upmarket'

A RADICAL overhaul is planned at one of East Anglia's oldest and best-loved markets which could see traditional stalls phased out in favour of boutique stands.

Laurence Cawley

A RADICAL overhaul is planned at one of East Anglia's oldest and best-loved markets which could see traditional stalls phased out in favour of boutique stands.

About �6,000 is to be spent by St Edmundsbury Borough Council on a review of Bury St Edmunds market.

The aim of the review, which will be carried out by external consultants, is to safeguard its future by making sure it is offering what the public wants.

Council market chiefs claim the market will only survive if it goes “up market”.

Traders last night responded by urging caution and calling for the market to be allowed to regulate itself.

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Nigel Aitkens, the council's cabinet member responsible for markets, said the market needed to offer “something new” if it was to survive the next ten years.

He said the type of people buying from markets was changing and he said stallholders needed to follow suit.

Mr Aitkens said the market needed to have a “high quality” offer and said improving standards was crucial to its success.

“The profile of the people who use the market has changed,” he said. “We do need to have a certain standard. It is a big tourist attraction in the summer and it adds a different flavour when Bury is compared with other towns.

“We want the market to continue and we want to be the best market in East Anglia.”

John Webber, chairman of the Bury Market Traders Association, said he broadly agreed with Mr Aitkens but warned that continental-style markets of the type proposed were also struggling.

“The market will regulate itself by the people who trade there,” he said. “If you can't make a living you don't stay - it is self regulation.

“What we really need is a more diverse range such as a cheese stall on Wednesdays and more good bread stalls. We need the sorts of stalls which attract people and which people want to spend money at.”

He said boutique stalls might offer something different and looked nice but were often the most at risk when there was a change in the economy. “People keep referring to continental markets but they are not doing very well at the moment.”

He said a number of measures - such as offering free parking in the town on Wednesdays - could encourage people into the town and to the market.

The market in Bury St Edmunds pre-dates the arrival of William the Conqueror and was given a Royal Charter by King John in the 13th Century.