Man who helped save Chesterfield market as schoolboy says council has ‘let it decline’
A man who campaigned to save Chesterfield’s outdoor market as a schoolboy in the 1970s has accused the council of letting it ‘decline’ in the years since.
In 1974, a London-based property company scrapped plans to build a £10million shopping complex at Chesterfield’s market square – following a major protest led by David Ellis.
His campaign – which saw 70,000 people sign a petition against the proposals – started after a letter he wrote as a 12-year-old was published in the Derbyshire Times.
Now, Chesterfield Borough Council is pursuing what it describes as ‘ambitious’ plans to breathe new life into the market, creating a ‘vibrant open-air shopping experience with new event space, seating and landscaping’.
The authority insists it is a ‘proud supporter’ of the market and high street – but David, who is now 60 and lives in Liverpool, has voiced concerns.
He told the Derbyshire Times: “The market has sadly been in major decline since the 1990s which breaks my heart as we all fought so hard to keep it and it was doing so well.
“I believe the council let the market decline as they allowed too many supermarkets to open outside town and also let the retail park close by take all the trade.
“The market declined and public taste changed as well.”
David said he went online and looked at the borough council’s public consultation into its proposals for the market and thought it ‘looked quite good’.
He added: “The main market area has to be retained but it has to be reinvented so it will appeal to younger people.
“I don’t live in Chesterfield now but I am a frequent visitor and always go into town and feel upset at how poor the once packed thriving market place has become.
“Unfortunately Chesterfield council – like many others – has been responsible in many ways for the decline of many former thriving towns.”
Councillor Kate Sarvent, the borough council’s cabinet member for town centres and visitor economy, said: “The way people shop and enjoy town centres and markets has been changing over the last 30 years – the growth of online retail has been a major factor in the decline of UK high streets, a trend that has accelerated as a result of the pandemic. Throughout this time the council has been a proud supporter of the market and high street.
“We have supported market traders by reducing stall prices in the wake of the pandemic but even before the pandemic we offered new traders flexible stall prices. We hold regular town centre events like the 1940’s market which bring more people to the town centre to shop and support our local market traders. As we recover from the pandemic we have offered a series of initiatives like the Chesterfield Digital High Street project which aims to help small businesses to increase their sales through e-commerce. We have also invested in our town with projects including the public realm development in Elder Way and the new enterprise centre and multi-storey car park, which aim to create a more attractive entrance to the town centre to entice visitors and new businesses.
“Planning decisions about applications for out of town shopping areas have followed a ‘town centre first’ principle and all applications require an assessment of the impact of the development on the town centre. The retail parks we do have are in close proximity to the town centre, which encourages shopping trips that also support the high street. The last major supermarket application to be approved was the relocation of Tesco which formed part of the development of the football ground and regeneration of the Dema Glass site.”
As reported by the Derbyshire Times last week, traders believe the borough council has carried out a ‘mishandled, lame and lacklustre’ consultation on the market revamp plans.
Luke Povey, Simon Davidson and Steph Mannion accused the authority of ‘avoiding sharing the full plans due to the controversial decision to remove many of the market stalls’ – and called for the consultation period to be extended.
The consultation ended as planned at the weekend.
Coun Sarvent said: “Our current plans for the market place were shaped following engagement with market traders and local businesses earlier this year and the proposals reflect what many told us they wanted to see – but we are still listening, and we will have further in-depth and direct conversations and engagement with our traders about the concerns they have raised, and how they see the market operating in future. Their views along with the many who have completed our consultation will help shape the final proposals.
“We want to protect the history and great heritage associated with our market and market place but we need to make sure it remains a relevant and vibrant shopping experience that will be used and enjoyed by residents, visitors, market traders and businesses now and in the future.”
According to the borough council, its proposals include the re-siting of market stalls currently located in New Square and on Low Pavement into a single market ground of 100 stalls in Market Square.
New Square would be re-modelled as a flexible events space and there would upgrades to the paving to improve the quality while also making it more accessible for people dependent on wheelchairs, pushchairs or mobility aids.
There would also be brighter stall coverings and more trees to improve the look of the market.