What’s the future of Wakefield’s market hall?

A warm welcome to Merchant Gate

A warm welcome to Merchant Gate - Credit: Joan Russell

A warm welcome to Merchant Gate

Wakefield's bustling Trinity Centre

Wakefield's bustling Trinity Centre - Credit: Joan Russell

It is a warm spring day in Wakefield and the city’s modern £2m market hall looks pretty impressive in the bright sunshine.

In the outdoor market a group of shoppers eye up the fish (haddock at £7 a kilo), while through the doors in the indoor hall people are sitting at the tables outside a cafe enjoying a spot of lunch.

It’s a colourful scene that suggests everything is fine but in fact a giant cloud hangs over the future of the David Adjaye-designed market that only opened six years ago. The council has received an approach from Sovereign Land (Management) Ltd, one of the joint developers of the nearby showpiece Trinity Walk shopping centre, and is considering a proposal for the market to be demolished and replaced by a multi-screen cinema, restaurants and shops.

Consultation has been held over the plan and the council is assessing all the views put forward before making its decision, expected later this summer. Should it opt for demolition, the market could close early in 2015.

Customers shopping in Wakefield market hall

Customers shopping in Wakefield market hall - Credit: Joan Russell

There have been some discussions about the traders running the market hall as a cooperative but if that does not happen they would have the choice of moving into vacant city centre shops, taking a market unit in Castleford or Pontefract or moving to a new outdoor market the council would establish in the city centre, possibly in the pedestrianised precinct near Wakefield Cathedral. The council has also considered the idea of establishing a mini indoor market in vacant units in the city’s Ridings shopping centre. A £100,000 relocation package would be set up by the council to help traders make the switch.

The building of the market hall was funded by the original developers of Trinity Walk in a finance and land deal agreed with the council. Despite its eye-catching design, a recent council report said the market had struggled and, since 2008, traders had been heavily subsidised by the council.

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Fears that the market could be demolished have left many stallholders angry and concerned over their futures.

Marian Miller who, with her husband Tony, runs Miller Cards, said: ‘It came as a bombshell when we found out earlier this year that demolition was being considered.

‘We had traded successfully in the old market hall and it was a struggle when we first moved into here. Customers didn’t like it at first and used to have a go at us as if we’d made the decision to build it. But it is well located right next to the bus station and people have gradually got used to it, so much so that about 10,000 people have signed our petition opposing its closure.

‘It’s nice to have that level of support but I’m not sure it will be enough to keep it open.

‘Markets are a community all of their own and this one will be missed if it goes.’

Norma Pearson, who has run Norma’s Hats and Accessories for 30 years, said: ‘People don’t like change and many traders were reluctant to make the move in the first place but they worked hard and got on with it. We expected our rents might go up but the demolition proposal was a shock. I don’t want to have to move. I enjoy the buzz of the market and it is a very friendly place.’

Mervyn Millington, who last December opened his kitchenware stall – his first foray into running his own business, said: ‘I thought I would be able to get well established here but now I’ll just have to see what happens.’

Councillor Denise Jeffrey, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration and economic growth, said the council can’t continue to subsidise stallholders rents indefinitely: ‘We are looking at all the options for the traders. We need to retain a market in some shape or form. We don’t want people to lose their livelihoods.’

While acknowledging the traders concerns, Coun Jeffrey said it was encouraging that Wakefield was continuing to attract the sort of major investment proposed by Sovereign Land (Management) Ltd. Recent years have seen the opening of the award-winning Hepworth Gallery, the remodelling of the Bullring, the development of Merchant Gate, a new entrance at Westgate railway station and the current refurbishment of Kirkgate station.

Coun Jeffrey said: ‘We have revamped the Civic Quarter outside County Hall and that part of the town now looks super. There’s also the £2m refurbishment of the Town Hall and we are looking at options for bringing the old court house, a grade II-listed building, back into use.

‘There is a master plan for the Kirkgate area which includes a new county archive building and some residential development. And a planning application has gone in for flats at the old ABC Cinema.

‘There’s a lot happening in Wakefield and the city has a lot to shout about.’

What do you think about the changes happening in Wakefield? Let us know your views by emailing feedback@yorkshirelife.co.uk, tweeting @Yorkshire_Life or writing to Yorkshire Life, 1200 Century Way, Leeds, LS15 8ZA.