Brighton's Open Market to be 'Re-Developed'

Brighton's open market in happier days...
I can't help thinking that Brighton, perhaps Britain, is closing down. Brighton's open market is to close in June for 're-development'. I just talked to one of the stall owners who is very depressed indeed. Livelihoods will be lost.

The market is to be flattened by developers from June to make space for flats and a new, modern market. Those currently trading there will have no priority over the new leases when they come up after the 18 months it will take before the site re-opens for business. I expect that stalls will be taken over by middle-class cheese and chutney sellers, somehow. Don't get me wrong, because I love cheese and chutney, its just that, speaking to one of the stall traders, it became obvious that the demolition of the market (and the livelihoods therein) is part of a Council plan to 'clean-up' the area.

The site is owned by Brighton and Hove City Council. Since the closure of Mears and Sons fruit and vegetable stall (though Mrs Mary Mears still owns the lease on the shop while it remains closed) the market has been decimated with a huge drop in the numbers of customers walking through the market, since the entrance from the Lewes Road side is derelict and hardly looks inviting for custom.

What is sinister is that I am told that it is Mary Mears, who is a Council leader, has most to gain from the re-development of the site, while other stall holders have the most to lose. According to the Open Market website...

'Pat and Mary Mears are often present. Pat's grandfather was among the earliest traders in Brighton's Open Market in the early 1920s - one of those returning from World War 1. In the early years, 90 % of Brighton's residents bought their produce at the Open Market, which boasted 16 greengrocers originally. Pat and Mary are among the 6 or 7 traders who are preparing plans for a £11 million make-over of Brighton's Open Market.'

It looks very much like Mary is selling the rest of the stall traders down the river and that her pocket will gain most out of the proposed redevelopment. Sainsbury's is just up the hill from the Open Market and that has hit the traders. Meanwhile, the 99p store on London Road, just opposite the London Road entrance will not have helped. The Argus reported that Mrs Mears was due to keep her stall open, having sorted out cash flow problems and arrears that she apparently owed for the stall. Yet, as one man told me today, that never happened. It never did re-open. Strangely, nobody else can take over the closed area either, since she hasn't let go of the lease. Much like the fish counter of the market, something smells fishy...

The website continues...

'The £11 million revamp will make provision for 56 permanent market stalls, 58 art and craft workshops, a caf√© and 26 one, two and three-bedroom flats (40% of which will be affordable).

These enterprising traders have taken time to study successful markets in other parts of the UK. Their experience and research has now been incorporated into a complete plan, drawn up by Lomax Cassidy Edwards, the architects behind Brighton’s £14 million, award-winning Jubilee Library. Inspiration has also been taken from study of old Spitalfields Market and Borough Market in Southwark near the banks of The Thames.'

Shops are closing down all over Brighton along the Western Road and here on the London Road. Major stores like Millets have closed down a shop. Long-standing, established firms like Sussex Stationers and British Bookshops are axing staff and closing down more of their shops.

The decimation of a working-class trading community in Brighton

I was going to enquire about the rent rates of the market in an effort to start a stall with some friends, but obviously there is no point considering hiring a space to sell things because, in June, the whole historic area is going to be demolished and replaced by a modernised residential and refurbished market area. One stall owner who I talked to didn't know what he was going to do in June. Sign on, I guess. The stall doesn't make much money, he scrapes by, and he has no existing plan of action for when his livelihood will be taken away from him by Brighton and Hove City Council and the new developers.

I am sure there has been some shady dealings going on. The Argus reported in December 2009 that...

'A tyre dealer is moving to make way for the £17million redevelopment of Brighton's Open Market. Fields Tyres is relocating from Francis Street, Brighton, to a new site in Hove. The move was agreed with Brighton and Hove City Council which is helping the firm to relocate. Developers Hyde-Marlet want to build 87 homes on the site to help fund a dramatic redevelopment of the Open Market.'

It sounds rather like certain lynchpins of the trading community are being bought off individually to gain access to the lucrative land. Apparently, something similar happened in parts of the east end of London, especially near the docks, when developers moved in on working class communities and basically got rid of working class traders only to replace them with new, post, expensive flats and market traders with money who set up their dream delis. This aspect of 'regeneration', I believe, is traditionally called gentrification, something that marks Brighton out, perhaps even a little more than other towns, because property here is so sought after.

Whitehawk and Moulscombe were designed, built and created far out of the town centre in the 1950s and 60s so that 'slum areas' of the town could be cleared and made safe. Rather, what actually occurred was that slum areas were indeed cleared but the slum dwellers, the poor, were moved out of town to two outposts where, surprisingly, there is a higher crime rate, the community is more deprived and the whole areas both have terrible reputations. I believe that the intention in the case of the open market is rather similar in motive.

Life is not fair, I know that. Bad things happen, money talks. Yet, at a time of recession, it looks rather like, under the guise of 'regeneration', a buzz-word that makes you think of children playing in nice parks and nice houses being built for poor people, London Road's communities of traders are being roundly spat upon by big business, big developers, the Council and even some of their fellow traders. My mum came to visit only the other day and told me how cheap it was to get some eggs and bacon and stuff, telling me I should go there more. When the market re-opens, somehow, I think cheap eggs will no longer be sold at the open market.

Regarding the new leases, when they are finally available, the website tells us what kind of stall traders they will be looking for when it finally re-opens in 2012/13...

'There would be space for somebody who wanted a print and design workshop, a nail-polishing stall and even perhaps a local solicitor’s office. However, they would resist any trader who was selling anything too inferior in order not to invite people who merely want to offload junk.'

How insulting! Well, I've just picked up some things to sell on from one of the stalls. Some people like 'junk', after all! Why do you think people go to car boot sales?! As far as I can see, this is just appalling, downright, Victorian-era snobbery from the Council, lording it over a traditional working-class market where people sell things, second-hand items, to get money to feed themselves and their families and kids. What do charity shops (and there are loads of them on the London Road, Scope, Oxfam, British Heart Foundation, Age Concern etc) sell, if it isn't junk!? It really makes me quite furious that the space now dwelt in by one of the traders complaining to me of what is taking place will eventually be taken by a solicitor! I like junk! Everyone, send me your junk, especially if its even vaguely Catholic!

There is no doubt that London Road is very poor, that the shops along it are a bit naff, loads of them are charity shops, it is in a valley, away from the town centre and independent businesses find it hard to survive here. However, what with the closure of the London Road open market and its redevelopment into nice flats and market for cheese sellers, along with the police's consistent entrapping of homeless men and women in order to get them arrested, and put in jail it is more likely that, rather than the Council and the authorities truly aspiring to the 'regeneration' of London Road, they want to clear the area of the very poor, homeless and now working-class people too. So much for the 'entrepreneurial spirit and the 'Big Society'! I wonder what Caroline Lucas MP makes of it...


Mikey Stephenson said…
I agree with your sentiments entirely, what a darn shame :0(

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