‘Inappropriate behaviour’ and ‘offensive language’: The company hired to improve Northampton Market Square

Director of company had to apologise for his conduct

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By Natalie Bloomer

Concerns have been raised over the company hired by West Northamptonshire Council to help with plans to regenerate Northampton’s historic Market Square.

Quarterbridge has been commissioned by the local authority to ‘create a vision and business plan for the market’ but it has emerged that a director of the company has previously had to apologise for using ‘offensive language’ and ‘inappropriate behaviour’ towards stallholders.

The company, which is based in Colchester, has worked on the redevelopment and management of markets across the country. However, their management of a market in North London known as the Latin Village proved controversial. 

The Latin Village had been earmarked for redevelopment, something many traders and campaigners were fighting against.

In 2017 Transport for London (TfL), who owns the building where the indoor market is situated, wrote to Jonathan Owens, a director of Quarterbridge and its sister company Market Asset Management, over allegations made about him by stallholders and others at the Latin Village. 

The letter goes on to detail seven complaints about Owens including that he told stallholders “If you want a fucking war, you will get a fucking war” and “If I wanted to, I could get rid of 90% of the traders here”. 

The minutes of a meeting between TfL and Owens show that he admitted making the comments but said they were ‘in jest’ and ‘taken out of context’.

When stallholders asked for more security at the site due to some trouble they’d experienced, they said Owens told them: “I’m giving you permission, it’s my property, grab them by the scruff of the neck and throw them out.” They also said he used the terms “bloody illegal immigrants”.

In the minutes he told TfL the first comment related to an issue one trader had received from an “abusive vagrant” and that the second had again been taken out of context and had referred to “vagrants” sitting outside the market. 

Owens accepted that his conduct referred to in the complaint was wrong and had caused offence. He apologised to those involved. 

Campaigners celebrated this year when the developer at the Latin Village withdrew from the project and the local council backed an alternative community plan.

Quarterbridge’s involvement with the management of a market in Rochdale ended in 2018 when the council reversed its decision to work with the company, saying:

“Although we have given the operators numerous opportunities since the tender process in 2016 to prove they are the right people to run our cherished market, and given significant additional help and support where we have been able to, we feel they have been unable to meet our expectations”

The £8.42m project in Northampton, which is being supported by the Government’s Towns Fund, will include improved landscaping, seating, a large-scale water feature and new lighting. 

Temporary alternative locations are being considered for the market while the work, which is due to begin next year, takes place. 

The Northampton Civic Society has come up with an alternative plan which they say is based on best practice and government reports. Historian and member of the society Mike Ingram said:

“The Civic Society and its members are most concerned about the proposed plans for the Market Square as so far they do not seem to reflect its nationally historic importance, particularly as the largest enclosed market square in England founded in 1235.

“We are also extremely concerned about the choice of consultant as the experience of other markets in England suggest they are far from suitable.”

West Northamptonshire Council was contacted for a comment about the concerns over Quarterbridge but did not respond. However, in a statement last week about plans for the Market Square Cllr Lizzy Bowen, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Town Centre Regeneration and Growth, said: 

“Feedback we’ve had from people is that Northampton market looks old and tired and doesn’t cater for most people’s needs. In addition, the current market arrangements were costing the taxpayer around £120,000 per year, prior to the pandemic, to maintain which isn’t something that can afford to continue.

“Our aim is to attract a wide range of stall holders which will in turn bring in more shoppers from a greater variety of backgrounds. This is vital if our market is to thrive.

“We’re bringing in a team of market specialists to help us with this piece of work, and they’ll be engaging with those who will be most affected, including existing traders and surrounding businesses.”

NN Journal contacted Quarterbridge but has not had a response.

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