Empty stalls at prestige new market hall leave council with £100,000 gap in finances
Rents from Barnsley’s new Glassworks market hall will fall short of expectations this year, leaving the council to find more than £100,000 to plug the gap.
The revelation is a fresh blow for the regeneration project’s finances, which have already been downgraded from an expected money-earner for the authority to an expectation it will have break-even finances.
According to a report for Barnsley Councillors, the extra cash is needed because ongoing construction work at the complex, which is a heavily modified version of the old Metropolitan shopping centre, has resulted in some stalls being left unoccupied.
The internal report states the extra cash, which will come out of this year’s budget if approved by councillors, “will contribute to alleviate this pressure”.
However, traders operating in the market, which opened last year, say they believe the council’s leasing policy which saw more than 30 traders leave in the nine months ahead of the new market opening has contributed to the problem..
The meat and fish market opened in September and there are still several stalls which remain empty.
Some stalls on the first floor of the main market have not had traders in place since that opened before Christmas and at least one has now moved to a different pitch on the ground floor.
More stall space will be made available as work on other areas of the building is completed, leaving the council with more spaces to fill.
The Barnsley group of the National Market Traders Federation have had a series of concerns about the new market and the way it has been managed, including the effectiveness of cleaning, which has since been stepped up.
Spokesman Keiron Knight said: “The council lost more than 30 businesses between January 2018 and the opening of the Glassworks in November, which was due to traders not wanting to go in on the terms and conditions of six days a week trading and five year leases.
“They have lost a lot annually in rents because of that and now there is a black hole that will have to be filled by the taxpayer.”
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According to Barnsley Council, the Glassworks project is on track and expected to be completed in the Spring of 2021, with the gap in rental incomes caused by a “slightly later” opening of the market. In addition they say “a small number of stalls remain unoccupied”.
However, they add the opening of the new Market Kitchen food court will “help alleviate some of the rental shortfall”, though no explanation as to how opening a planned section of the complex will make up for cash another area has failed to deliver.
Traditional cafe traders in the new market kitchen food hall – who have have trading ahead of the full range of food outlets, also raised concerns about persistent false fire alarm activations, which have seen customers having to leave hot food to evacuate the building.
That has been exacerbated by a delay in getting gas re-connected – a safety measure – which has left traders frustrated by both being unable to replace meals which have been left inedible and to serve new customers.
The issue has already been raised with Barnsley Council and Mr Knight said some traders had started out reimbursing affected customers, but had found themselves unable to continue because of the frequency of the problems.
“It is hard for cafe operators because they are worried that customers who’ve not been able to finish their meals will just go and find somewhere else to eat in future,” he said.
“When the gas doesn’t come back on for 20 minutes it means new customers can’t be served and that has an obvious impact on trade.”
Barnsley Council’s response is “Our number one priority for the facility is the safety of all shoppers which is paramount.
“Therefore it’s critical that we have robust and reliable building safety systems in place – and the fire alarm is just one example of those systems.”
No comment has been offered on the impact on cafe traders of fire alarm activations.