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  • Writer's pictureDavid Taylor

We've found the money to save our market

Updated: Feb 24

If you were to listen closely to Havering's leaders, you'd think they had no choice but to cut our Sunday market. They flip-flop between two claims. Either 'their hands are tied due to a lack of government funding' or 'we need to cut the Sunday to save the other days'.

Recently, the HRA wrote that they were in fact trying to revive Romford. Cutting the Sunday market would save it, as would spending over £1m filling in a roundabout on North St. These claims come just weeks after they tried to remove the free Sunday parking and hike Pay & Display fees. Their plans also included increasing the cost of a market stall by 10%.

Boy, that's some strange 'saving the town' going on.

Well, there's good news. My colleagues and I have gone through the budget and we've found the money to save the market. Not only save it, but to invest into it. We've proven that no-ones hands are tied. Our plans have been approved by the Council Officers as affordable and come just weeks after we forced the council into a u-turn over their plans to hike parking prices.

So here's our plan to save the market.

  1. We will keep the Sunday market, as some traders tell us it is their most profitable day

  2. We will reduce the cost of a market stall by 15%

  3. We will use future payments from developers to refresh the market with new signage and equipment

Our plan will attract more market traders back to Romford, helping it to grow and thrive.

Where did the money come from?

There's a strange setup in council finances. Whilst we're told that we're going 'bankrupt', the reality is that we have a lot of money to spend, but it's in a different pot. This pot is for buying and building new homes, it is called the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), no relation to the Havering Resident's Association (HRA). I'll call it the 'housing fund'.

We can't use the housing fund to support the market. It's ringfenced for housing and rightly so. But, as it's name suggests, it can be used to buy and build houses.

Now let's go back to the pot of money that is 'running out', the general-fund. This fund is spending £6million a year on housing homeless people in hotels. It costs the council £30k a year, per hotel booking.

Here's where the magic happens.

We take the housing fund and... we buy and build houses. Houses that we put homeless people in.

Havering Council already has plans to buy and build some homes. In the last 4 months they have spent £16m to buy homes for 50 refugee families (paid for by a government grant and extra borrowing). They have plans to buy 50 more next year and another 150 through a partnership with a local estate agent. 200 in total.

That's great, but what if we increased the number from 200 to, say, 210? Not a massive jump.

Well, this means we will suddenly have £300k available. £300k we don't have to cut!

Closing the Sunday market will save £125k. We can cover that, by housing homeless families!

Win-Win! Who would object to housing more homeless families?

Why keep a failing market day?

The argument for closing the Sunday market is that it costs so much it puts the rest of the market at risk.

Simply, it doesn't. First, because we can't scrap the market by law. It's a protected, chartered market. Only the King or Parliament can close it entirely.

Second, Sunday hasn't been given a real chance to thrive. It was launched just after Covid, to help the market recover. There was no new signage in the town, it wasn't really promoted, and cars were not allowed to park in the market square near to it. With rising costs of a stall, it just wasn't attractive to the stall holders or customers.

No one visiting Romford would know it's there. They walk from the station or Brewery car park and straight into a busy South Street. They cross into the Liberty and Mercury mall. Not once are they informed that a Sunday market exists.

So, we proposed giving it a real chance and investing into it. Our high-street is recovering and the town is slowly attracting new visitors through additions such as the Market Square Premier Inn. Now is the time to step-up, not step back.

By reducing the cost of holding a market stall, we are showing market traders that we believe in the market. We're encouraging them to give our market a try, including on a Sunday. We will bring stalls back to the town and help our market to thrive once again.

A better approach to our finances

Havering council are treating the market like a tumour. The Sunday market is causing a problem, so cut it off and let it die to save the rest.

The HRA have called our plan to save the market a 'pet project'. Maybe that's accurate. People feed a pet, they love it, they nurture it, and it grows into something that becomes an important family member and is hugely loved.

Romford town centre is my pet project. So, I'll fight for it to be invested into and loved, so that we can grow it into something special. This is a better approach to local finances.


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