Lambeth council’s planning committee last night (7 May) unanimously agreed applications for major changes in the operation of Brixton Village and Market Row.
The main effect will be to allow later opening along with changes in the current balance of traders in the two covered market areas – allowing up to half of all premises to become food and/or drink establishments, but setting this proportion as the maximum permitted.
Lambeth planning officer Michael Cassidy said that “there won’t be changes overnight”.
Brixton Village’s 83 units are currently split 70% shops (58 units) and 29% restaurants and cafés (24 units); one unit is classed as a drinking establishment.
In Market Row, the 53 units are split 66% shops (35 units), 32% restaurants and cafés (17 units); one unit is classed as a hot food takeaway.
The planning permission would limit A3 use to a maximum of 50% of floor area – preventing restaurants, cafés and bars from taking over all of the larger units and confining retailers to the smaller ones.
Linked applications for the two areas from managers Hondo Enterprises had sought “blanket permission” for all ground floor units and linked first floor units to have “flexible” use. Hondo said that at least half of existing units would remain class A1 (shops) with no more than half of the units becoming class A3 (food and drink).
The committee also agreed a draft management plan that will see major changes to the markets, some of which are already under way, including free wi-fi, air conditioning and heating, increased security through CCTV and more staff, free toilets and cash points. The markets’ power supply, described as “rickety” by Cassidy, will also be upgraded. There will also be a new website for the markets.
The management plan goes into detail about ways to reduce noise and nuisance as people leave the markets that will now be open daily to the public from 6am to midnight. They will remain open for cleaning only until 1am.
Addressing the committee, Oliver Sheppard, a board director of planning agency DP9 that is handling the applications on behalf of Hondo, said that there would be “continuous communication” on the plans with “traders, shoppers, visitors and other stakeholders”.
He said that more food and drink establishments would be “entirely in accord with the cultural diversity of the markets” and would increase footfall.
Sheppard told the committee that extensive market research showed existing traders had seen “a marked decline” in trade and footfall in the markets over the past three years. A key reason was the number of vacant units in the vicinity of the markets.
Railway arches on Atlantic and Brixton Station Roads boarded up for years are only now seeing the return of traders.
Sheppard said that daytime-only trading could limit footfall.
Respondents to a survey of local traders had said that food and drink establishments could increase footfall.
“The feeling is that food and drink will lead to people spending more time in the markets and will increase the footfall throughout both the days and the evenings,” said Sheppard.
Hondo’s Alistair Maddox said that “I want to make it absolutely clear that our priority for the market is to protect its unique character as a centre for the Brixton community and a beacon for visitors from across our city.”
He also promised that “extra weight” would be given to any application for premises in the markets that could show “strong links to the borough and, in particular, Brixton”. He said two of the three traders to have opened in the markets this year were in this category.
Maddox pledged that vacant units will be advertised in the market first “to ensure that local people have the best chance of approaching us about the space”.
He said that more than 60% of current traders and employees in the market come from Lambeth.
In discussion on the applications, Green party councillor Becca Thackray, who seconded committee chair councillor Chair Wilcox’s move to agree permission for the Market Row application, said that Hondo had “proved itself in the past year” and that she was confident that its vision was right for Brixton.
She particularly approved Hondo’s plans to use existing windows to regulate temperatures, meaning that outside burners will not be used for heating. “We’ve got natural use of things. I think that’s a real plus,” she said.