GREENWICH Hospital’s issuing the food stalls in the market with notice to quit has prompted an outcry. But it may be only the first part of the Hospital’s plan to undermine the market in order to clear the way for its redevelopment.
Traders believe that the Hospital’s new managing agents, Nelson Bakewell, are considering adopting a proposal with which they did considerable damage to another market they managed, Covent Garden. After the food stalls go, this website has been told, the Hospital is considering getting rid of all stalls which sell “manufactured” goods. In other words, only people who make their own wares will be allowed to remain. (The second-hand day won’t be affected.)
Between 20 and 40 permanent stalls – out of around 90 – would go, and a similar proportion of the casual traders. A committee may be drawn up to decide which traders are “creative” enough to remain and which need to be ejected.
You can see a sort of purist, idealist logic in this – making it a truly “craft” market. It’s true that there’s a certain amount of tourist-targeted tat in the place at the moment. But in the end it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the mix that is needed to make a market successful. It also risks quite a seriously large number of empty spaces if the hoped-for creative geniuses do not materialise.
The Hospital has dropped Urban Space, the manager which revived the market to its present pitch of success. Nelson Bakewell, the new agents, have decided, in the words of one source, that what they want from the market is greater “predictability” – of income and takings, which of course also equates to greater predictability of content. Hay’s Galleria, here we come!
“They say they can predict the shops, but not the stalls,” said one source. “They want to look at a spreadsheet and know what’s going to happen, but successful markets don’t work like that. You’ve got to be more flexible and more creative.”
The Hospital and Nelson Bakewell have also parted company with two key people running the market – Shaun Hose, a consultant engaged to draw up a “creative vision” for it after councillors rejected the redevelopment plan last year, and Patrycja Nowak, the market manager inherited from Urban Space. Both resigned over what other sources say was their concern about the direction in which the new management was taking the market.
“I simply do not believe they know what they are doing,” said one person closely involved with the market. “We have been waiting for months for them to tell us what their vision is for the stalls part of the market and we still don’t know. I think the problem is that they don’t know themselves.”
The Hospital not knowing what it is doing would be one possibility. But the other possibility is that they know exactly what they’re doing. I’ll cover the Hospital’s new, revised plans for the redevelopment – now being considered by the Planning Appeals Inspectorate – in more detail in next week’s column. But, just as in the plan that was rejected, it appears – and our sources confirm – the floorspace available for the market stalls and their associated storage will be less than it is now, even without the demands the proposed new hotel is likely to impose on that same, limited floorspace.
Less space implies, of course, fewer stalls. But if lots of the stalls have already been chucked off, they won’t be in a position to complain about the redevelopment. And the quieter the market becomes, the less justification there is for not redeveloping it.
The eviction of the food stalls is blamed by all our sources on Greenwich’s second least-favourite institution, after the Hospital, Frank Dowling’s Inc Group. Dowling – all our sources say – demanded that the food stalls be removed because they were damaging the trade of his pubs and restaurants.
I can quite understand the deadly peril for Frank’s third-rate catering empire of having to compete for business with outlets that might be quite good – though Frank, it should be said, last night denied to me that he’d made any such demand over the food stalls and “didn’t even know” they were going.
But whatever motivated it, the moves on the market appears to be part of a wider agenda. Just as I described in my previous column with the shops, Greenwich Hospital appears to be hollowing out the retail core of the town to reduce resistance to its still overbearing and inappropriate redevelopment plans. As I’ll explain next week, I have a feeling it’s not going to work.
PS – Sorry about the long gap since the last column. I’ve been on holiday – back regularly now!