COMMENT: The future of Brixton market – a proposition

Written by on April 19, 2013 in Opinions - 9 Comments

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

Market Row

Market Row

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.

A proposition

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.

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9 Comments on "COMMENT: The future of Brixton market – a proposition"

  1. Sherala November 15, 2013 at 11:42 am · Reply

    If Brixon so dangers why have we seen an icrease of middle class people moving to the area, maybe richmond and bromley are to borning for them. Don’t believe all the BS, this is nothing but lambeth council propaganda to get the lower working class people out of the area, lambeth counvil are, trying to blame the coalition government the last time I checked the coalition government doesn’t run a local government or make local government decisions time for people to wake up and smell the coffee.

  2. Maria Sombrero September 27, 2013 at 10:36 am · Reply

    On the theme of the proliferation of restaurants in Brixton village i applied for a chef’s job at Brixton Village G.rill’d. This company are not even offering the minimum wage let alone the London living wage. Not only that, they are insisting that their staff are self-employed and rely on tips to bring their wage up. This is basically a ruse to avoid any employers responsibility. BOYCOTT THESE SCUM!!!!

  3. Bob Groves May 3, 2013 at 12:56 am · Reply

    Great article Richard! I do the editorial/feature cartoons for the Bugle and I’ve been wanting to draw a cartoon for the paper on the market culture issue for a while! Hopefully I will get to do so soon.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the forum/focus group idea with all the stakeholders involved:

    Local residents
    Marketeers (who’ve been there before it was what it is now)
    Bar/restaurant owners
    Boutique/shop owners
    Landlords

    The findings of these talks should be published to The people of Brixton who will want to express their opinions too and then we should move things forward in a controlled, respectful manner where nobody takes the Micky!

    Nobody can doubt that both Brixon Village and Market Row are extremely attractive pull factors for Brixton, which is great! But it must be carefully managed with a truly holistic view of the situation before it becomes unmanageable- as with the landing of trendy Foxtons in Brixton, it could be only a matter of time before this vibrant multicultural part of London gets whitewashed with Prezzo and Pizza Express and loses its individuality which derives from it’s amazing history, mixed demographic and all the wonderful assets Brixton has!

    It is this grass roots vibe which people love, which is why they come to Brixton to spend they time and money- if we lose unique venues like Brixton Market and the wonderful traders/foodies in there it will be a shame!

    Cheers

    Bob

  4. M April 23, 2013 at 3:51 pm · Reply

    No doubt it would throw up some issues but to help those who have no need to open in the evening, how about licensing the entire corridor section and share the profits across the board. The shutters could be brought down at a certain time (with smaller doors obviously!) to reduce the noise for locals.

  5. Richard Pope April 20, 2013 at 10:40 am · Reply

    Since writing this, I received an FOI response from Lambeth about how many / if any bars & restaurants are being investigated for change of use.

    It turns out there are currently 10(!) shops that have been turned into bars/restaurants and are being investigated. So it looks like point 2 of my proposition was already in train by Lambeth:

    13/00058/3COU
    7 Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    14.02.2013
    13/00145/3COU
    3A Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    04.04.2013
    As above
    9 Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    04.04.2013
    As above
    10 Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    04.04.2013
    As above
    12 Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    04.04.2013
    As above
    14D Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    04.04.2013
    As above
    18 Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    04.04.2013
    As above
    21 Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    04.04.2013
    As above
    25-27 Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    04.04.2013
    As above
    30 Market Row
    Changes Of Use Within Market Row To A3
    04.04.2013

  6. Jo April 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm · Reply

    Some really sensible points well-made above!

    Lambeth council might have to find a good balance though. A secondary effect of restrictions may be that the real estate in the village and market row becomes even more valuable as business, such as potential cafes or shops, would not be able to open as freely. In which case, landlords will take the excuse to escalate rents even higher.

    In some ways I understand why rents have gone up so much in the last few years – the markets have clearly seen a revival and the markets are now a more valuable asset – but surely the % increase in rents which have faced business such as Nour can’t be sustained by the owners next year – the markets aren’t going to get any busier than the are?!

    Would be interested to hear thoughts about encouraging more business to areas further afield to generate more competition. (Sigh* sees open invitation to turn this into a gentrification vs regeneration blog again….)

  7. Mario April 19, 2013 at 10:05 am · Reply

    I totally agree with Mark’s comment. For years Brixton has been known as a dangerous area to visit, a drug den and still carries this stigma. The success of the market, alongside a gradual gentrification of the area are slowly changing that perception. This is something which positively affects residents who enjoy a safer environment, home owners who can see the value of their properties rise and traders/bars who will earn extra money. Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, communities evolve and do not necessarily remain the same for decades (just read abut the history of Brixton in the past 100 years to have an idea). I agree that there are issues in the market that need to be solved. Too high rents will likely push out traders in favours of bars and perhaps chains. This is something that market tenants and market owners could deal with perhaps creating a two-tier structure of rents (bars vs shops/fishmongers etc) which takes into account the fact a fish monger closes at 5pm and would not stay open till midnight. However, I do not thing too many suffocating rules should be applied, the risk is that we could go back to old dangerous Brixton and I personally do not want that.

  8. Mark April 19, 2013 at 9:17 am · Reply

    Those areas of Brixton where the market restaurants now are used to be dark, seedy, dodgy and often dangerous areas at night, now they are lively areas for entertainment and the flow of business – and have led to a much more inviting environment – people actually come to Brixton to eat now, how about that!
    I recall reading an blog on Brixton back then where the author was sneering at what he called ‘outsider’ nervously walking down Coldharbour Lane to get to the DiogStar, well now you can thankfully boldly walk down Coldharbour Lane at night thanks to the predominance of normal as opposed to threatning people being there.

    • Tony May 6, 2013 at 7:34 pm · Reply

      Agree completely Mark! Brixton has certainly improved for the best over the past couple years. Fed up with hearing people complaining about the so-called ‘gentrification’ of Brixton. Living in Brixton for over 26 years now and rather have some lovely, interesting places to shop, eat and socialize than the half-empty, dirty shops, bad attitude to customers and fear of crime!

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