The Ashbourne News Telegraph commented this week about the state of the Ashbourne Market and asked what was needed to put life back into it. It compared it to the Bakewell market. Bakewell has some enormous advantages – there aren’t many Monday markets, it has the benefit of the cattle market which was established at Ashbourne’s expense, and it has huge cheap car parking available. In Ashbourne, although the majority of the local shopkeepers understand the benefit of the marketplace, a small number have agitated for some time for it to be closed and parking to be provided on the marketplace – closer to their shops. One notorious individual, who previously had strong links to the market, regularly patrols it like a self-appointed inspector looking for any problems that he can report to the Council rather than, literally, minding his own business!
This ground has been covered several times previously but the most recent was in 2012. the proposal at that point was to close the Thursday market and divert funds elsewhere. There is a resultant report which discusses the pros and cons of markets and the regulations surrounding them. At the heart of the strong report on Derbyshire Dales stall markets is the financial argument. The 2012 report highlights that on a Thursday typically 16 of the 30 stalls are occupied (remember a single stallholder may cover more than one unit) and on Saturday 23 out of 55 stalls are occupied. The cost of setting up the Thursday market annually is £11,854 and the Saturday market is £14,666. The full cost of setting up the two markets including repairs is £28,273. The full cost of running the market (presumably including cleaning and management) is £76,094 while the rent is £41,000 and £940 from stallholder parking. This means the market loses £34,154 each year and the report estimates that a further £23,960 could be made from parking over the two days. In total the cost (actual cost plus opportunity cost) of the Ashbourne market is £58,114 allowing for this.
So the full economic argument in the report is based on:
A. Stall rental income + B. stall parking income – C. stall setup – D. market management – E. opportunity cost of parking on the square and then the influence of F. other things not taken into financial consideration above
A. Stall rental income.
The report states an average stall costs around £18 per day to rent. Therefore an occupied stall generates £1,620 of income assuming a stallholder attends both markets 45 weeks in a year . Looking at the figures in the report, because there is no explanation of “net income”, I am guessing that to break even purely on rental’s would need to see the market increase in size by around 70%. Alternatively the rental would need to increase but, in already straitened circumstances, this would potentially drive some people away and create an additional barrier to entry
B. Stallholder Parking Income
Nothing really to add here other than if anything there needs to be incentives to attract new stall holders.
C. Stall setup.
This is a reasonable and unavoidable charge. There was a letter in the Ashbourne News Telegraph from one of the people setting up the market highlighting that closure has a real impact on people’s associated jobs. Close the Thursday market and someone is out of work who sets up the stalls, who could subsequently be claiming benefits and who would have less money to spend locally… One suggestion was that the stallholders could erect their own stalls but their age and fitness would prevent this.
D. Market Management
The same applies here but there is no breakdown of what this cost constitutes. The rentals and parking outweigh the cost of stall setup and so at base level the markets are profitable. The overhead cost of management is what drives it into negative territory and by definition overhead doesn’t just disappear – it gets spread across the remaining markets. Cleaning still needs to take place whether there is a market there or not.
E. Parking Opportunity Cost
The parking argument is fundamentally wrong. In Wirksworth I can see the demand for central parking. In Ashbourne or Bakewell all the availability would do (except on the busiest Saturdays of the season) is move parking from slightly further away into the centre with no new revenue created. Underlying this is that, however marginal, the loss of the market could only possibly reduce visitors to the town so overall parking revenues should actually reduce due to the proposed measure. The only remotely possible scenario is that the closure of the market and opening the market square for parking would take parkers from Sainsburys or on-street parking but this does not seem likely. The opportunity figures in the report assume an infinite demand for parking which just doesn’t exist. The letters to the local newspaper are never about shortage of parking but more to do with the cost of parking. The calculations in the report make for some big numbers that are ultimately unattainable.
F. Other factors.
The opportunity cost of parking fees was added to the calculations in the report but if you are going to make those assumptions you should also look at the opportunity revenue which is going to be taken away. How many people visit Ashbourne because it is a market town and because it has a market? There was an interesting report carried out by Derby University students which worked out that the incremental income to Ashbourne from the Ashbourne Festival (in purchases, accommodation and food) was £121,000. 19,000 people attended the Festival and a big proportion of them attended the Streetfest weekend. This suggests that an additional visitor to the town will spend £6.36 on average each time they visit. If we conservatively assume just 30 people make a special trip to Ashbourne for the Thursday market – this results in an additional £10,000 of revenue in the Town. This doesn’t appear in the report anywhere.
What about the opportunity cost of the unemployment of stallholders, market managers and stall erectors? There is £76,000 of presumably mainly wages which will no longer be earnt – replaced by benefits and less dispoable income in the Town.
What about the lost opportunities for people who are currently unemployed to get a rung on the ladder and try their first business. What about the opportunities for local charities to raise some much needed funds?
Conclusion? Whichever way you look at it the Ashbourne market is an asset to the county and the Town. Its success and the Town’s success lies in building the revenue side for the future rather than cutting the costs in the short term. Ashbourne’s market is also a weather vane for the economy of the Town as a whole. This week H Smith is closing down, The Green Man is in constant jeopardy and the Bridge has had a succession of owners. A realistic look at the finances needs to be matched with a positive plan because the DDDC still needs to balance its books. The good news is that the petition, conversations between the traders and the Town Council, and the surrounding conversations have revealed lots of people willing and able to help.