Richard Pope, who lives near Market Row, wrote to us last week about his experiences of the changes there. Here, he argues for residents and traders working together to make sure Brixton Market’s future is a good one
By Richard Pope
A trend has been developing in Brixton over the past couple of years.
Pubs are being bought up and turned into supermarkets, while independent shops, facing large rent increases, are replaced by bars and restaurants.
To an extent, one feeds the other – an independent shopping area withers, more people are driven to supermarkets.
The supermarket question has been discussed at length, I want to focus on the second issue – partly because it has had less coverage, partly because I think there is a solution.
Since 2009, when the owners of Brixton Village and Market Row engaged the services of what their annual report refered to as a “specialist marketing company”, the number of bars and restaurants in both markets has exploded.
In some instances they opened in empty units*, but many have been at the expense of long term businesses who can’t compete with the rent you can afford to pay from selling premium hot food and alcohol.
Residents living near the market, myself included, have also felt the effect as opening hours are stretched and more and more bars open.
In Market Row there are now eleven licensed premises. The number is larger in Brixton Village.
The noise from groups of people drinking and smoking at the entrances to the markets, use of surrounding roads as public toilets, and people leaving at closing time, means the market area is, for the first time, noisy from 6:00am when the outdoor market sets up, until well after midnight.
This is getting worse, and come the summer will be quite extreme.
The interesting thing though, is that, since 2009, all this has happened without residents and local businesses having a chance to have their say about the direction of the market.
Many of the bars and restaurants have opened without going through the necessary change-of-use planning application.
The hours of the market have been extended without any sort of consultation with residents, and, as I understand it, at cost to traders.
This may all sound a bit harsh on the bars and restaurants involved.
They are often independent traders themselves (although it may only be a matter of time before chains begin to force them out too), who are trying to make a go of it.
But if these issues don’t get resolved it will only breed resentment between residents, and old and new traders. And Brixton is too nice a place to allow that to grow.
My proposal is therefore that the council work with everyone involved to do the following things:
1) create a saturation zone for new licenses, similar to the one in Clapham, for the market area.
2) require bars and restaurants to apply for planning application so everyone has a chance to put their case.
3) set up some sort of forum for people who live and work in the market to work together to guide its future.
If we don’t, more businesses will be forced out, residents will suffer, and eventually we may find we have lost a historic shopping market forever.
* This is often overstated when people talk about Brixton Village. It is true that some units were empty, but this was only in the very eastern edge of Brixton Village. To my knowledge little effort was ever made to fill them since the plan was to demolish the building to make way for flats, but this was abandoned when the building was listed.