Joanna Hughes reports on more problems for the traders as the Pope’s Rd car park is demolished
Brixton market traders who lost their battle to regenerate the Pope’s Road car park for customer parking faced more misery today.
Traders and customers coughed and sneezed from sawdust created by trees being chopped down and compacted on the site of former multi-story car park.
Stuart Horwood, Chairman of the Brixton Market Traders’ Federation, says he phoned Lambeth Council to complain: “The whole area is covered in sawdust and it is affecting customers and traders. It has caused considerable disruption. I’m very disappointed that this has been done without any consideration as to what happens here.”
Unfortunately Lambeth Council was not available to comment on this particular incident.
Lambeth Council’s Master Plan for Brixton commits to parking space in any redevelopment. But in February the council made an exception for retail giant Tesco building a new store and mixed redevelopment on Streatham High Road.
Tesco originally agreed with the council that building work would be done in phases so that Streatham’s popular ice rink could remain open to the public throughout. But despite record pre tax profits of £3.4 billion, Tesco’s request to save time and money by erecting a temporary ice rink for three years on the Pope’s Road car park was approved by the planning committee.
John Gordon, Secretary of the Brixton Market Traders’ Federation said: “It’s an absolute disaster. My takings are down by forty per cent and I feel incredibly angry that this has been done to suit Tesco which has masses and masses of car parking.”
Mr Horwood said: “I am stunned that an agreement with such a major bearing can be amended. It wasn’t knocked together overnight.”
A spokesperson for Lambeth Council said: “Tesco will provide 600 new jobs, 250 new homes and a new leisure centre. 33 parking bays will be built at Buckner Road for market shoppers.”
The traders have endured two-and-a-half months of demolition noise from 8am until 5pm every day. The demolition contractors used water jets to dampen down dust. But traders will still be left with what Mr Horwood describes as a “logistical nightmare” when they have to quit their own parking, also on the Pope’s Road site, on 31 July.
Lambeth Council will reinstate some trader spaces on Pope’s Road. It is also providing overflow car parking for traders at a new car park on Porden Road – also the only planned customer car park – a five minute walk away from the market. Mr Horwood said: “We will have to move from a site on which we can comfortably fit forty-two vehicles with only three blocked in, to thirty-five nose-to-tail spaces where virtually everyone is blocked in.” Where the spaces will be depends on a proper survey of the site which will map it out inch by inch.
A first-in-last-out policy will, Mr Horwood said, “be an absolute nightmare”, as fruit and vegetable traders arrive at 6am and leave at 4pm, while other traders do not start work until 09:30 and leave at 6.30pm.
A spokesperson for Tesco, who are in charge of the new ice rink, said: “This is one of the most exciting regeneration projects in London. It will create hundreds of jobs and will see fantastic new leisure facilities built for the local community.”
But this concession may not be enough. Anxious traders are yet to be convinced that customers with heavy bags will go the distance.
Families come to Brixton market to buy large items such as drums of cooking oil and sacks of rice. With no parking nearby there has been a huge fall off in custom and the market is being subsidised by £50,000 of council funding. Mr Horwood said: “With the cut backs the chances are funding may not continue. Although no one has said to us it is all over.”
He added: “The reality is people don’t mix leisure and shopping. They may buy a banana after they skate for energy but they won’t be doing a weekly shop. We’re on a knife-edge and if we don’t remain commercially viable, we won’t survive.”
And that’s why Mr Horwood has become CEO of the new Community Interest Company under which the traders will be trading from the beginning of the next financial year.
Community Interest Companies were introduced by the Labour Government under the Companies Act 2004, to allow businesses which help the community to run themselves as companies. Registered now at Companies House, the traders are negotiating delegated powers from the council to run the market themselves.
Mr Horwood said: “We can run the market on a much leaner budget and we’ll be free to seek outside sponsorship, re-brand and publicise on websites, shopping bags and door-to-door flyers.”
The traders paid tribute in particular to Brixton Town Centre Director Steph Butcher and to the wider council who have supported the traders’ company.
Mr Horwood said: “It wasn’t a total loss. It raised the profile of Brixton Market Trader’s Federation and we have gained the respect of certain council departments. We fought a good fight based on facts and figures.”