Traders at Pontefract Market have their say after plans to help stallholders revealed
Market traders in Pontefract have had their say on the future of the industry, following news of a plan to help stallholders across the district.
Wakefield Council revealed details of a £5m package to help revive the six markets they run this week. It's expected to be signed off by the authority's senior leaders on Tuesday.
If the proposals go ahead, Pontefract and Castleford's indoor market halls will be set for a revamp while the outdoor markets in Pontefract, Ossett and Wakefield will be given modernised stall structures in a bid to make them more attractive to shoppers.
Outdoor stallholders braving the January cold and sales folk inside Pontefract's market hall offered their views on the trade, and what they think should be done.
Husband and wife team Ian and Chris Shepherd trade in Pontefract two days a week.
Mr Shepherd has been a stallholder for 41 years but while he's philosophical about the decline of markets, he believes there's no prospect of that reversing.
"The younger generation just don't shop at markets," he says. "The internet now is just much more convenient. That's just how things are. It's a sign of the times.
"We're not getting any new blood into the trade anymore, whereas when I used to trade at Doncaster I used to have to sleep in my van if I wanted a stall the next morning.
"You can't regenerate them (the markets). I think they've gone now. I don't think there's anything they (the council) can do. It'd be a waste of taxpayer's money."
Despite believing the trade is on borrowed time, Mr and Mrs Shepherd intend to keep running their business from the timebeing, but say they will probably target big events, like Pontefract's famous Liquorice Festival more from now on.
Simon Barker has similar doubts about the future of the market, though he believes there's been a recent bounce in footfall since town centre retail units were filled. He's been trading in Pontefract for 20 years.
"I don't think markets can be brought back," he says. "I'm not sure there's much they can do to be honest.
"I’ve built up a very good customer base in my time here, but if you were just starting out now you’d find it very difficult to do that."
Mr Barker says he believes there was a proposal at one stage for local people to take over the running of the markets from Wakefield Council, something he indicates he'd support.
"I think the council weren't keen," he adds. "It would mean job losses and they don't like change."
Phone cover seller Rohit Verma, who's been on Market Place since 2006, is more optimistic.
He says business is strong at the moment and believes footfall is holding up reasonably well.
But like several traders, he wants the market's active units to be consolidated, cutting out the empty ones.
He said: "The empty stalls give it a bit of a bad look. When people walk past and see that they think the market’s dead.
"I think the answer is that we need more traders."
He gives the council's plan to give outdoor traders in Pontefract, Wakefield and Ossett more attractive stalls a cautious welcome.
"People are used to these frames," he said. "If they’re going to change it, then they need to be changing it for something good."
Inside the market hall, businessmen and women are pleased to hear plans for refurbishment.
The council says entrances to both Pontefract and Castleford's halls will be made brighter and "more welcoming" and new lights will be installed.
Cheesemonger Stuart Holmes, whose stall is shoppers' first sight as you enter the building from Market Place, says: "It's not something I've heard about, but if that's going to happen then that's a good thing.
"It's certainly not going to do any harm is it?"
Around the corner, cobbler Joan Duke believes work is "overdue".
She also says the venue could do with more maintenance, explaining a problem with the hall's doors that's been left unfixed, and has forced traders to keep the heating on.
"I think it could do with some work," she says. "The floor's looking a bit messy now.
"We’ve noticed footfall's started to drop off a lot in recent years. Shops are shutting down and not being replaced anymore. The internet's a big part of that, but obviously our business can't be online."
Opinions on what should be done, if anything, clearly vary among traders. There are 240 of them across the district and many of them have been in the industry all of their working lives.
But regardless of whatever help they may get from the council, a sustainable future for markets ultimately rests on the customers.
Like treasured high street brands such as Woolworths, many local people would likely rue the loss of a marketplace, but whether or not their mourning translates into support for them while they're still there is another matter.
Local Democracy Reporting Service