31 Jan 2023
‘Next steps’ plan for food village scheme after positive public feedback
Senior councillors will next week be asked to approve a package of measures that could pave the way for the opening of a major new food and drink venue at Leeds Kirkgate Market.
Positive public feedback has been received since Leeds City Council announced that it is considering the potential for a ‘container-style’ food village, which would occupy part of the market’s outdoor trading area.
The council’s executive board gave the green light last month to the launch of a consultation exercise seeking people’s views on the proposals, which have been drawn up with a view to safeguarding the long-term future of the outdoor area following sustained and significant investment across the market site as a whole.
The consultation exercise has now ended, with its results due to be considered by councillors on the executive board at a meeting next Wednesday, February 8.
The councillors will be told that, although some concerns were raised by a small number of existing traders at the market, the response from members of the public was overwhelmingly positive.
More than 2,000 online questionnaires were completed, with 71.5 per cent of respondents supporting the idea and 91 per cent saying they would be ‘somewhat likely’ or ‘very likely’ to use the rest of the market if they were visiting the proposed venue.
Given the results of the consultation, the meeting will be asked to back a twin-track approach to the next steps of the scheme.
This would see the council start the process of promoting the site to private operators as a potential location for a food village of the type – normally built from refurbished shipping containers – already found in cities such as London, Manchester and Bristol.
At the same time, engagement with traders would continue and a clear message communicated that the venue would be designed to complement both the indoor and outdoor sections of the market and boost week-round footfall.
Approval of these measures by executive board would not constitute a full green light for the scheme, with any final decision staying on hold until interest from possible operators and other relevant factors have been assessed. Should the plans eventually get the confirmed go-ahead, there would be no future financial risk to the council, with the chosen operator meeting the cost of building the new venue.
The outdoor market currently has space for a total of 185 stalls, with around 85 of them being filled on a typical day.
This is a considerable figure – particularly given the gradual nationwide drop-off in the popularity of open-air markets – but equally the council recognises that it means a sizeable portion of the site is regularly left standing empty.
Under the plans put forward at the end of last year, the number of outdoor stalls would be reduced and the freed-up space used as the location for the new food village.
The reconfigured open-air area would still have enough room to comfortably accommodate the current level of trader activity, and would also remain one of the largest sites of its kind in the region.
As well as driving footfall, the income stream from the food village would help put the outdoor market on a more secure financial footing following a period when the money generated by its stall rents has declined in tandem with occupancy.
Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said:
“We are hugely proud of both Leeds Kirkgate Market’s history and the important part it continues to play in local life, with the council’s multi-million pound investment in the site during recent years underlining our determination to ensure it remains one of the jewels in the city’s retail crown.
“Given the special place it holds in so many people’s affections, we are conscious that any new additions to the market must be handled sensitively, and must also complement and enhance its existing offer.
“That is why we carried out the consultation exercise on the proposals, with the results being carefully analysed and used to shape the next steps options that will be considered by executive board.
“Should these next steps be approved, then we will continue to engage with all parties – including traders, shoppers and stakeholders – as we gauge the level of operator interest in the proposals.”
Key elements of the council’s recent investment in the market include:
- The creation of the popular Market Kitchen street food hall and event space as part of a £14m refurbishment scheme in 2016;
- An ongoing £10m project to repair, conserve and enhance the 1875 Blockshops, the oldest surviving structures on the market site;
- The provision of more than £1.4m worth of rent concessions to help traders cope with the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic;
- There has been no rent increase since 2011.
Regeneration plans are also in the pipeline for a new hotel and ground-floor commercial units on the George Street side of the market.
Occupancy levels in the indoor market are currently running at more than 90 per cent of lettable units.
A full copy of a report to executive board members from council officers recommending approval of the ‘next steps’ plan for the food village scheme can be viewed here.
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Leeds City Council Communications team