AMBITIOUS plans to revive Surrey Street market, which could involve its operation being taken over by expert private managers, have been published this week.
Breathing new life into the flagging market is a key element of the overall business plan produced by the Old Town Portas Pilot Town Team, intended to boost the regeneration of the historic quarter of the town centre.
The team has been given £100,000, under the pilot scheme being run by TV retail guru Mary Portas.
In the heyday of the market, 20 years ago, prospective traders could expect to wait ten years to get a prime spot in Surrey Street.
These days the message from the council is: "Fill in an application form and you can start as soon as you like."
Even that has failed to fill large gaps in the market, but the Portas team believes that by working closely with the council and the existing traders, it will be possible to bring in a whole range of new stallholders.
Team member Paul Collins said bringing in an expert market management company was thought to be one way that plans for a revamp and expansion could be best implemented.
He added: "It is important, however, that we keep the traders on board to help make the decisions about what they want for the future.
"We want to bring in something which is going to complement what is already there and improve the opportunities for the market."
The idea of promoting the heritage of the ancient market, which was founded in 1271, and that of the surrounding area – which includes the Minster and Old Palace – is included as a part of the Portas team's desire to see Old Town thrive in its own right.
Mr Collins said: "It is very clear that through Portas we have to promote a district which is very different from North End."
This, he said, would mean concentrating on marketing Old Town as a special area in which independent small businesses would be the core.
It would also mean offering a mix which is not readily available in the rest of the town.
A community hub in Surrey Street has been suggested as a radical way of creating a unique atmosphere.
It would provide an area in which people would be able to sit and enjoy food produced by market traders, a show kitchen for cooking lessons and performance space for entertainers.
Free wi-fi would also be laid on for businesses and visitors and empty properties could be used as "pop-up" spaces for new firms to test their ideas and products on a short-term basis before hopefully making a long-term commitment.
Mr Collins said everyone involved with Portas and the Old Town Business Association was passionate about leading the revival of the area.
He added: "I wouldn't want to condone anything that went on during the riots but the fact is, we wouldn't have the funding if they had not occurred.
"It is important we now make the best of the situation."The main elements of the Portas team business plan include:
- Creating a management system to operate Surrey Street market on a day to day basis;
- Establishing a community hub, under cover, in the centre of the market providing eating and entertainment areas;
- Introducing wi-fi and high-speed internet access for businesses and visitors in an area taking in Surrey Street, Church Street and part of Frith Road;
- Spending £33,000 to provide micro loans for existing businesses in the area that want to expand or for new enterprises that want to move in;
- Setting aside £2,500 for a distress fund to provide small one-off payments to help businesses pay for small items to keep trading; and
- Appoint a project coordinator to oversee the administration, operation and marketing of the business plan.