Northampton market regeneration: Exciting opportunity or the beginning of the end for stall holders?
The plans have received a mixed response
By Natalie Bloomer
Nobody could argue that Northampton town centre needs regeneration. If there is one thing that locals agree on it’s that the area has been on a downward trend for many years. It’s not unusual to hear people say they ‘never go into town anymore’ or that it looks uninviting when they do.
As is the case with so many high streets up and down the country, many big retailers have left the town centre and over the years ideas and projects aimed at bringing people back into the area have failed to make the difference needed to turn it into the thriving attractive place it could be.
But with the impressive refurbishment of the museum, award-winning productions coming out of the Royal and Derngate, and a number of large government regeneration grants, could we be at a turning point for the town centre?
In the coming weeks, we’ll look at regeneration plans for the area in closer detail and speak to local people about their views on them. Today we start with the Market Square.
The Northampton Forward Board was formed in 2018 to lead on a number of regeneration projects in the town. It is made up of representatives from the council, South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP), The University of Northampton, Northamptonshire Police, Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce, Royal & Derngate, Northampton Town Centre Business Improvement Districts, members of parliament, the private sector and the local community.
In 2019 the board carried out a consultation of 1,069 people with a number of options for the regeneration of the Market Square. The results showed people favoured more rather than less stalls - including those with good quality or specialist products, more events, an interactive water feature (although many pointed to previous problems with the existing fountain), additional trees and stepped seating.
People involved with the Northampton Forward Board tell NN Journal a lot of importance was placed on the consultation with efforts to reach as many people as possible and that the results were repeatedly referred back to when plans were discussed.
Views from the market
One of the most controversial issues is a decision to move traders away from the square for up to two years while the work is carried out. Last week West Northamptonshire Council announced that the market would temporarily be moved to the Commercial Street car park. It will be the first time the market hasn’t been situated on the square since 1235. A number of other options were considered but none were found to be suitable.
The move is due to happen in August and works are expected to be completed in early 2024.
On Saturday, we spent the morning on the market to speak to both traders and customers about the plans.
Fitzy and customers
Fitzy is one of the most recognisable faces of the market. He has been on the fruit and veg stall for 58 years after starting there as a Saturday boy when he was 13. When we spoke to him he was `having a cup of tea opposite his stall with a couple of customers.
“I’m not against change but I think we could have been moved to Abington Street or Wood Hill (much closer to the square than Commercial Street). I call it Death Row down there [the new site] because there’ll be no coming back. They’ll force me into early retirement. It’s not over yet, I will go out kicking and screaming. I think they’ve underestimated how much this market means to people.”
Pam, 86, says she’s been coming to the market since she was a child. “Even the Nazis couldn’t close this market, we used to come down during the war and get sweets from the Americans. We all have so many memories here, it’s not just a market it’s a community social space.”
Her friend Dawn, 88, says that as a child her dad used to bring her to the market from Yardley Hastings every Saturday. “It was a day out, we’d spend ages down here, you could get everything. It’s not the same now but I still come down regularly because it gets me out.”
Both women say they wouldn’t visit the new site as it would mean walking too far with their shopping to get back to the bus station.
Elliot is the third generation of his family to run the flower stall on the market.
“Our stall has been here for 100 years. I used to come down with my dad when I was young and help out cutting flowers and that sort of thing. I remember when they replaced all the cobbles down here. My dad was so stressed about it that my mum booked us a holiday so that we weren’t here when it happened. It’s like we’re facing the same sort of thing now. I support the plans [to regenerate the square] but it won’t work for us being right down there [Commercial Street], we won’t get the footfall. We’re only just getting over the pandemic and now we’ve got this.”
“I use the market every weekend, I come down and buy fresh veg and have a browse. I like the book stall as well. I think the plans sound really good. Northampton isn’t great at the moment, lots of people say it’s grim in the town centre. I like the idea of having a square which we could sit in and socialise like they do in Europe. I think it will be really good but I do understand why the traders are concerned about moving.”
Tom has the ‘Bubbles Afloat’ stall and is keeping an open mind about the changes.
“The council has answered a lot of the concerns that I’ve had so I think as long as they advertise it properly it will be ok. We’ll have to see what happens but I’m open to the plans, we just need to wait and see.”
Jen and Robert Shapcock
Jen and Robert had a fruit and veg stall on the market until 1995.
“It was hard work and often wet and cold but the customers made it and we still miss them. The council has killed the market over the years. This used to be one of the biggest markets in the country. It was great, there was a cattle market once a week and everyone would come in from the villages. All that’s gone.
“The move will mean lots of people lose their livelihoods. Why can’t they move the stalls to one side of the square while work takes place on the other half and then swap? I don’t think the people that plan these things really understand the market and how it works.”
“I don’t come into the town centre much anymore because I don’t really like walking around here. It sounds like a good idea to make improvements to the market and Abington Street. I’ve just walked down there and it was horrible. They can’t make it any worse!”
Councillor Lizzy Bowen, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Town Centre Regeneration and Growth, said: “We know many of the traders would have preferred to stay on Market Square while the redevelopment takes place, but this would cause significant delays and additional costs.
“We worked through several different options including possible relocation to parts of Abington Street, and we even looked at an empty unit in the Grosvenor centre as a possibility.
“All of the other options would have meant splitting the market up to some degree which would have reduced the potential footfall to each separate area.
“Situating the whole market at Commercial Street car park will increase its visibility as it will be located at a very busy road junction. It will also allow people direct access via car.
“We will do everything we can to minimise disruption for traders during the Market Square work and we will help promote the new location as widely as we can.”
The salaries of our two local reporters are paid for by subscribers. If you afford £5 per month and you would like to support our local journalism become a paying member here
NN Journal is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.