New vision for city’s market

Future vision: Jonathan Owen, of consultants Quarterbridge, who is advising Preston Council on the future of the city's market

Future vision: Jonathan Owen, of consultants Quarterbridge, who is advising Preston Council on the future of the city's market

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A smaller fresh food market is the future of Preston’s markets, an expert has said.

Jonathan Owen, of market consultants, Quarterbridge, brought in by the city’s council to advise on the future, has said the city needs to stick to its fresh food which he said could “knock the socks” off supermarket rivals.

He has also told it to bring in an ‘anchor’ tenant which he said could be anything from a Post Office or chemist through to a convenience store-style supermarket to draw people to the area.

In a report, published today, he has highlighted the need to provide a shoppers’ car park and creating periodic on-street markets around the area.

It is expected the new facility - which will be open before the existing indoor market is demolished to open up space for a leisure complex - be based under the existing Fishmarket canopy and possibly the former city centre Post Office.

Council leader Peter Rankin said it was ready to pump its £5m city centre regeneration budget into the overhaul,

He said: “The day of the market has returned.

“Markets are crucial for flourishing retail within a city centre, it gives people a reason to come to the city centre which makes it so important to the regeneration of Preston.

“It can act as a kick-start to what we want to do.”

But, the leader warned the development would “not happen overnight” and said the authority is now drawing up detailed plans on the exact location of the new market hall and how it can pay for it.

He met with market traders yesterday to discuss the plans and vowed to work with them on the future look.

Mr Owen said the current fresh food offer was the biggest draw for customers, but said it needed to reposition itself to attract “the sons and daughters” of its core of elderly shoppers.

He said: “You can use the fresh food as the core of a business model and then provide the necessary facilities around them to make that flourish.

“At present the operating costs of the (indoor) market hall are too high and traders are being asked to pay to heat and light one third of a building which is not even being used.

“You have to look at rationalising the size of the market and improving the facilities but, most importantly, there has to be a new market hall in place before the old one closes.”

He added introducing a “footfall generator” would also be key: “It may sound almost counter intuitive but bringing in a convenience supermarket would not be a problem because I know the offer traders here have would outclass them.”

On the potential for introducing periodic street markets on roads around the canopies, he added: “I am very keen to push that idea forward from day one because it is cheap to establish but, if done right, can be a huge draw.”

Mick Lovatt, environment director on the city council, said he did not see the former Post Office building on Birley Street as “a viable option” due to the cost of refurbishing the building to take a market.

He said: “What we do not know is exactly what we can do with the space we have and what we can do with it, that is the next step.

“The key thing is the buildings we are working with are in the ownership of the council, so it is within our gift.”

The report will now be discussed by the council’s cabinet next week where it will decide whether to accept its recommendations.