From The Chamberlain Files:
Birmingham’s historic Digbeth markets are at risk of going out of business if the city council insists on pushing forward with a controversial relocation plan, traders have warned.
Wholesale Markets stallholders claim they would be unable to afford “significantly higher” rents at a new purpose-built site.
An independent survey into traders’ views found widespread “cynicism and mistrust” of the council’s motives going back many years, according to polling company QA Research.
The council is consulting the future of the Wholesale Markets site, which it owns, after plans to move to a £140 million development at Witton collapsed last year.
Key members of the council’s controlling Labour group are sympathetic to traders’ wishes, but have warned that the financial cost of remaining on the city centre site may be too great.
The 22-acre Digbeth complex was built in 1975, although markets have been held on the site since 1816.
The Wholesale Markets provide fresh produce to hundreds of street markets, restaurants and shops across the Midlands. However, it made a £1.5 million loss last year and more than a third of the 264 trading units are vacant.
The building is “at the end of its useful life” with a leaky roof and requires expensive and costly refurbishment if more traders are to be convinced to move in, according to the council.
There is also a question mark over the future of the adjoining Indoor Market, Rag Market and Open Market , which traders claim stand in the way of the council’s wish to flatten the area for a major redevelopment scheme linking with the planned HS2 high speed rail terminal.
The council has conducted its own consultation into the future of the Wholesale Markets, offering several options including doing nothing, moving to an out of town site and a comprehensive redevelopment of the existing site.
Most traders opted to stay where they were, although some said they would be prepared to move if the council helped them with relocation costs.
The QA Research study found that traders feared a domino effect if the Wholesale Markets were forced to move with many businesses failing to survive and “not having the will to carry on”.
The study noted: “This would lead to many of the Open and Indoor Market traders closing down. The Rag Market was also cited as relying heavily on the customers that attended the other markets so would be affected if the others were set to decline.
“There was a feeling from across the markets that the council had big plans to develop something on the site that the markets currently occupy -possibly in relation to the arrival of HS2.”
Birmingham’s Wholesale Market Traders’ commissioned their own study to increase awareness and understanding of the Markets’ importance to Birmingham and the national food-supply chain. Digbeth Residents Association has been sent a copy of this study, which can be seen below.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Birmingham and the importance of the markets, Birmingham Museum has recently opened a new exhibition entitled Birmingham: its People, its History; it comes highly recommended by DRA Treasurer Gabi!