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My thoughts on the Burton Town Deal proposals

I had wanted one of my early blog pieces to be about the Town Deal – and the many opportunities it can bring to Burton and wider East Staffordshire – however, I have been conscious that there are several consultation exercises ongoing, so I didn’t want to interfere with this process.   As some of those are now complete or well underway, I wanted to share my thoughts about the proposals and give some background to the Market Hall and the work we’ve done there in recent years.

I recognise that some of the projects amongst the seven proposals have sparked debate, and I would absolutely expect this where proposals to change something are made.

Leadership and decisions are often not easy, realities not limited to 140 characters, the whole story not accurately portrayed on an ‘easy to read’ or perhaps an ‘easy to mislead’ Facebook graphic.

The majority of what “the Council” does, works well, works quietly and effectively – if you don’t really notice it, it’s probably working well.   But working well is not without its challenges – as quietly delivering services means direction, monitoring, and serious financial decisions.  I imagine that most people don’t spend time scouring the financials of the Council – but rest assured, we do, and taking decisions which ‘keep the lights on’ in terms of the services ESBC provides.

I will apologise in advance that this is quite a long read, but in the context of the above, I hope people will take the time to read it and consider the points given from a position of fact rather than whipped-up social media hysteria.

The seven Town Deal projects form a coherent set of proposals to address a number of challenges that Burton faces.   Skills and connectivity are key; the proposals to bolster the offering at Burton & South Derbyshire College are designed to address some of these challenges. The proposal to bring a University hub to Burton is critical to this success and incredibly exciting.  Connectivity through improved walking and cycling infrastructure and a new bridge to better connect the Town Centre with the East of the river will positively contribute to the Climate challenge.   The Library and Market Hall proposals – along with Project D, the High Street linkages project – will protect key heritage assets for the future, whilst refocussing the town toward the river and the Washlands – developing Leisure use from the Marketplace all the way up to Bargates.

You can read more about the Town Deal proposals, and full Investment Plan Document.

It’s absolutely not about “bull-dozing” the Library for housing; that simply won’t happen, and it’s not about Council’s relocating their staff – it’s around addressing the challenges that Town Centre’s now face; the changing face of retail – and focussing development on leisure and attracting visitors to our hidden heritage and assets.

One of the questions that has been posed is if we do nothing – is the Market Hall at risk?  Put simply – yes, clearly, the Market in its current guise is at risk.  Over the last decade Market has gone from generating a surplus of around £86,000 to a deficit of around £20,000.   Unfortunately, instead of generating a profit that could be re-invested in Burton, the local taxpayer subsidises the Market Hall traders and shoppers.

As a non-statutory service – so one we are not required by law to operate, a market which is a direct cost to taxpayers is clearly something that is under threat as we look to balance the budget. To look at some of the challenges we face, you can read our Full Budget (Medium Term Financial Strategy).

In 2012 – long before my time as a Councillor, when investing over £1m into the Market a Council report identified “continuing regeneration of the markets within the borough…. a major element of the regeneration is the development of the Market Hall in Burton upon Trent.”

It stated nine years ago that: “Burton Indoor Market’s fortunes have been in decline over recent years, despite various programmes for improvement and investment, as the market’s retail offer has failed to adapt to compete with contemporary and sophisticated retailing techniques.  The project is anticipated to improve the financial fortunes of the market and aid the redevelopment of the town centre.”

The report explains how by 2021, under the Council’s plans led by Richard Grosvenor, the market should be generating an income of £944,000 a year, generating a profit to the Council of £403,000.  

But it’s actually making a loss, and East Staffordshire Council taxpayers are subsidising traders and shoppers in the market.

I would like nothing more than to have a successful market, and soon after I was elected in 2015, I prompted a Scrutiny review looking at the failure of the market to meet its objectives. As a result, I’ve been working for improvements to the market for my entire Council tenure – and more so since I took over as Leader in 2019.

The fact is, as far back as 2012, markets were in decline, and since then, markets like ours have continued only really to survive, but not to thrive.  That’s not without a significant amount of effort – both under the former Leadership and during mine – a whole range of initiatives have taken place to try and make the market successful.

In the last five years, we have:

  • Upskilled our staff in Market management, including the National Association of British Market Authorities Diploma in Markets Administration.  The Service Manager, who oversees the Market Hall, has both an MBA and MSc in Public Management, and the team also work with both NABMA and the Association of Public Service Excellence in learning and understanding how they can improve the operation of the service, ensuring that the team are well qualified to make operational management decisions
  • Produced a lettings brochure for direct mail and ongoing promotion of available shop units and pop up stalls
  • Introduced a web page for each shop unit trader on the ESBC website to help their online presence. 
  • Partnered with local Estate Agents to deliver a series of targeted e-shots to their small business database, advertising permanent shop units available.
  • Run features on Burton Market Hall in the Market Trader News newspaper, showcasing what the venues had to offer prospective traders.
  • Introduced monthly prize draw competition for the opportunity to win money offer vouchers to spend in the Market Hall
  • Introduced specific Markets e-newsletter which customers could subscribe to in order to keep up to date with all the latest news from the Market Hall and Outdoor Markets.
  • Developed a monthly newsletter to improve communications with traders, this included news from the Market Hall, events planned for the months ahead and an opportunity to share promotions or incentives stall holders were running.
  • Installed New signage directing people to the Market Hall and Place.
  • Particpated in the Love Your Local Market campaign to drive awareness of the Market Hall, Outdoor Markets and its traders. Campaigns which included a range of paid social media content, radio adverts, email marketing and magazine features.
  • Run Children’s holiday activities in the Market Hall to encourage increased footfall from families with children
  • Introduced a new customer feedback portal to enable in person and online feedback from visitors, enable improvements to be made off the back of customer feedback and suggestions.
  • Hosted ESBC’s annual Gardening Olympics event to draw new visitors and families into the Market Hall and Place.
  • Hosted a new market dedicated to Craft Traders and Makers from the local area.
  • Added a new events listing page to the Market Hall website to increase awareness of both ESBC organised events and third party events using the Market Hall and Place.
  • Produced a video to help promote the Market Hall and Place through social media and other digital media platforms.
  • Held a themed Halloween Spook Market during October Half Term, with themed activities, stalls and workshops for families.
  • Organised a range of late-night shopping dates to give traders an opportunity to stay open late to capitalise on the Festive shopping period including the late opening for the annual Christmas Lights Switch On. 
  • Provided all traders with promotional carrier bags they could use for customer purchases, to help improve awareness of the Market Hall.
  • Organised a festive Craft Market to drive footfall into the Market Hall, giving local traders and makers an opportunity to sell produce to Christmas shoppers.
  • Joined the ‘Book a Stall’ directory to help improve awareness of available stalls, generating leads of traders interested in stalls at the Market Hall. This was in additional to Market Hall and Place listings already being run on the Stall Finder directory.
  • Shared social media content published by traders to our own social media channels to help increase their message reach.
  • Organised school holiday activities to be held in the Market Hall, increasing visits from families, whilst encouraging them to visit for longer and use traders in the Market Hall.
  • Launched a specific brochure to promote the Market Hall and Place as a venue capable of hosting a wide variety of events.
  • Developed a lead generation campaign to continue to promote the Market Hall to small businesses. This included, magazine features and digital leads generation promotions.  
  • Organised a Play in the Place event as part of the annual Brewhouse Children’s Festival; this family event held in the Market Place included a wide range of arts, outdoor theatre and family activities.
  • Introduced a new ‘taster membership’ to all prospective pop-up stalls traders to encourage small and start-up businesses into pop up stalls.
  • Improved and updated the Market Hall website to allow pop up stalls to be booked online and leads for shop units to be submitted online.
  • Collaborated with traders to promote businesses to local shoppers during the January sales period, through a range of incentive vouchers, that were distributed from a promotional stand in Coopers Square Shopping Centre.
  • Launched an extensive ‘Be Your Own Boss’ campaign to encourage small businesses to consider trading in the Market Hall, the campaign was also made appealing to start up business by promoting affordable daily pop up stalls options. This campaign featured a range of digital artwork, paid social media campaigns, features in trade magazines and adverts in printed and online media.
  • Partnered with the local Business Businesses Group to hold a Small Business Saturday Market in the Market place, which not only drew people into the Market Place, but also helped to promote and champion local business.
  • Joined the National Market Traders Federation Young Trader campaign, by offering free stalls to new young traders aged 16-30 at a one off event. Successful traders progressed to the regional and national finals. 
  • Offered all traders in the Market Hall the opportunity of membership to the Staffordshire Growth Hub, organising the local representative to a meeting with traders to outline the programme and training opportunities available to small businesses. 
  • Partnered with the Makers Market and CJ Events to bring a weekend of Festive Making and Food and Drinks Markets to the Market place on the first weekend of December to encourage footfall into the Market Place.
  • Launched the Christmas in Burton campaign to raise awareness of ESBC’s festive events, which have featured a wide range of markets, including, Food Festival, Makers Market and Craft Market.
  • Supported Market Traders through Covid with various support grants totalling more than £342,000.
  • Throughout the pandemic launched communication campaigns to ensure residents are aware of who was and wasn’t operating in the Market Hall and Place, what restrictions are in place and how our ongoing events would be affected by the pandemic.
  • Offered traders in the Market Hall the opportunity to be one of the local business owner faces of ESBC’s Stay Local Campaign. One trader from the Market Hall has been included in the campaign and has appeared on promotional video’s, case studies, outdoor media including bus adverts and billboards, radio campaigns, radio interviews and paid social media content. The campaign has been used to encourage local people to support independent business locally.

So, as I hope you will see, we have made incredible efforts over the past five years to make the market a success, and that we have a number of excellent shops and food outlets in the market - but ultimately the facts speak for themselves, and ultimately difficult decisions will have to be made.

I will say again that the Library and Market Hall proposals are just one of seven projects designed to level up Burton and address a number of challenges previously identified in the Burton Regeneration Strategy that this Council adopted in 2019.

If the Library moves to the Market Hall, both protecting this heritage asset for future generations – but also providing a focal point to attract visitors, the site of the current Library forms part of a 16-acre river and washlands facing area (Project D) in which the public call for ideas have suggested a Washlands Visitor Centre, Bars, Restaurants and various leisure uses.  As I said earlier, this fundamental change aims to reposition the future of the town, facing the river and the Washlands – making it a leisure and visitor attraction, supporting the future of the Town Centre as a place to visit, rather than simply a retail centre in decline.

With this proposal what lies ahead of us is the potential of a fantastic new library and community space, revitalising the marketplace, a site for a successful series of outdoor markets, a thriving higher educational zone bringing skills, opportunity and trade to Burton, a well-connected town fit to address low carbon challenges ahead – but even more importantly, a new focus on our fantastic Washlands, providing great leisure and amenity space for residents and a huge draw for visitors to bolster and level up our town and our economy and deliver a Resilient, Better, Brighter Burton.