Canterbury’s Wednesday and Friday general market is ever popular and has been part of our City Centre for a very long time. But will this generation of market traders be the last, sacrificed by Canterbury City Council as the collateral damage needed to enable a gentrification of public space.
The report that accompanies the public consultation on the refurbishment of the public realm in St Georges Street was clear that the closure the General Market will benefit business in the Whitefriars, as such a desirable outcome of the project. Such blatant protectionism is this Conservative Councils choice, rejecting as it does their mantra of free market in favour of supporting big business. I guess none of us are too surprised, nor that the Canterbury BID are getting fully behind this proposal. This as reasoning to explain the loss of more than thirty jobs and many market businesses is unacceptable and just wrong.
No one can doubt that St Georges Street in particular is in very poor condition and underused as a public space in the City Centre, its desperately needing a refurbishment. But the reason for its condition and decline is not a weekly General Market, the victim in this scenario. It has simply not been maintained, nor has it been kept clean, properly supervised or promoted as an event area by Canterbury City Council. For many years it could have been run as a vibrant public space, but this Councils approach has been lacklustre and fragmented at best, undoubtably resulting in its present appalling condition.
Even after the proposed £600K improvements the available public space is little changed. The events talked of in the Council Report on the proposal are of course aspirational as is the sculpture, art and other traders suggested, all are just possibilities. The loss of the general market is ironically the one firm proposal on the new public space.
This refurbishment of St Georges Street public realm should instead be a catalyst that drives a holistic change, encompassing the old and the new, tradition and innovation. It is not the time to sanitize what residents and visitors see and do, nor to become nothing more than the tacky extended shop front to big business.
There is scope for our City to have vibrant and interesting shops in Whitefriars and the rest of the City Centre, markets that are artisan, street food that is delicious and a City Centre General Market two days a week so we can buy anything from a locally grown cauliflower to an inexpensive coat for the kids.
The Labour Group of Councillors on Canterbury City Council, with the support of Rosie Duffield MP will continue to campaign to make the case for keeping the General Market and delivering a City Centre that seeks to be different. A place for performance, street art and the artisan, a space to promote small business and a whole lot more. There are seven days in a week and three hundred and sixty-five days, we don’t need to close a General Market we need to gain events and markets for five more days every week. A busy exciting and ever-changing City Centre will undoubtably bring customers to both our shops and markets, securing there future together through the evolving retail world in the City they choose to share with residents and visitors.