Over 100 people packed the public galleries at MK Council on 9 Jan to support Market Traders, whose livelihoods are threatened by development proposals for a second Primark in Milton Keynes.
Traders, who have not been consulted on the plans, say they are not worried about competition from Primark, but the popular market will wither and die if forced to move to “a third-rate site”.
Despite several prime development sites nearby, and the strong disapproval of English Heritage, the owners of the shopping centre are pressing on with planning applications to obliterate Market Square and close down the main highway into CMK by building a new Primark on the site.
“We are not afraid of competition or change,” said Chris Lee, spokesman, “and would welcome improvements to the market. But MK Market is finished it it has to move from an ideal location to a third-rate site.”
Mr Lee painted a picture of a truly multicultural, sociable place which is a lifeline to many local people. “MK Market generates business for MK. It creates jobs and opportunities and serves people from all walks of life, often from the poorest neighbourhoods,” said Mr Lee.
However, all this would be lost if forced to move to a narrow strip of parking near McDonalds and the Point. Crucially, he said, it is 40% smaller than Market Square, the wrong layout for modern market stalls, and almost invisible to shoppers inside the main arcade.
Either the number of stalls would have to be cut from around 220 to130, or every stall would have to be 40% smaller. Either way, trade would collapse, putting 400 jobs and the livelihoods of entire families at risk.
Moments before the speech began, however, the Mayor advised members of the planning committee to leave the chamber in case they were prejudiced by what the traders had to say.
As about 20 members trooped out of the room, two Councillors stood their ground. Cllr Chris Williams (Lib-Dem), former chair of the planning committee, objected, wondering why it was ok for the applicant to put their case direct to councillors, with an officer present, but it wasn’t acceptable to stay and listen to residents with objections?
Nevertheless, the deputation was a great success, and traders were interviewed on BBC tv & radio news. The centre mk was ‘not available for comment’.
In answer to a question, Cllr Andrew Geary (Con.), leader of MK Council, assured the public that the health of the market was a “material consideration” that would be taken into account when the planning committee decides on the application.
For Market Traders, angry and frustrated at the lack of genuine consultation, the deputation may have been brief, but at long last it was a chance to voice their concerns.
Many Councillors must be beginning to realise there are strong grounds to refuse planning permission and thereby protect the physical, social and economic fabric of Milton Keynes.