Ridley Road Market traders fear hike in pitch fees and tough new regulations will force them out
PUBLISHED: 13:18 04 December 2019 | UPDATED: 17:53 04 December 2019
Stallholders in the historic Ridley Road fear they are being forced out by pitch hikes and tough new trading terms they have dubbed "1,001 ways to lose your licence".
Hackney Council is currently running consultations to both increase pitch and storage fees at all its markets, and to introduce new rules and regulations.
The cost increases could see Ridley Road traders paying double to use the council's storage units, from £100 to £200 a month. The pitch fee hike ranges from £3 a week for temporary stalls to £9 or £10 for permanent traders.
The 36-pages of proposed trading terms include stallholders having to inform the market team within seven days of changing their email address or phone number, or risk having their licence suspended, and signing in and out at the end of each day.
The council, which recently hired a new markets team, says its costs have increased by more than £100,000 a year since fees were last changed in 2016, and that pitch fees for traders in zone 3 will go down. It also insists traders helped draft the new terms and conditions, which also cover food hygiene, health and safety legislation and the use of single use plastics.
Mayor Phil Glanville has also repeatedly stressed the market is going nowhere and has pledged to "protect and improve it so existing traders can thrive".
But stallholders believe the consultations are yet another tool being used to squeeze them out of Dalston as the walls of gentrification close in.
One told the Gazette: "I won't be able to afford it. You wonder where it's worth you coming out now, you work long hours.
"Every two or three years we get a new markets team introducing more regulations. But whatever they write down you have to sign it to carry on trading. It's death by 1,000 cuts. Or as we've called it: '1,001 ways to lose your licence'.
"It gives you the impression they don't want us here. Everything is a health and safety issue - they are going to regulate it out of existence."
Another trader, referencing the new developments around the market, said they had now been told they can't set up their fruit and veg stall until 6am due to complaints about the noise.
"We could go out and get a job and not be out in the cold and not have the stress," one worker added. "Everyone has thought of that, but there's fear of change, a lot of traders are fiercely independent. And the market is a special place. People always talk about community. There are some undesirables around here, I won't say there aren't. But there are a lot of wonderful people here as well and they are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater."
Ridley Road Market traders' association chairman Larry Julian also said the latest developments were all part of the process to force out traders.
"It's not going to do the market any favours, is it?" said Larry. "Rents are going up, storage is doubling. It's the nail in the coffin."
Rupert George, a regular shopper at the market from Mile End, said he feared the market could go the way of many others in London
"It's fantastic here," he said. "It's the cheapest place to buy fish in London along with Billingsgate.
"I come here because I like it, not because I need to. But this market is the difference between a good diet and a poor diet for a lot of local kids.
"Tooting had an indoor market that's now been taken over by chic street food and the same has happened in Brixton, and a lot of them have moved to Deptford.
"Poor people are having to go further to buy fresh food they can afford. If this closes they are going to have to get the bus to Walthamstow. Forcing people out would be crazy, from a public health perspective as well. People eating lots of cheap processed food is really bad."
The council's director of public realm, Aled Richards, said: "We're committed to protecting the unique character of Ridley Road Market.
"After a lot of hard work by the council and traders, we increased occupancy rates by 3 per cent last year, and have secured £1.5m [from Sadiq Khan] to invest in the market over the next few years.
"The proposals we are consulting on are aimed at making sure that Ridley Road - and all our markets - fund themselves so they can continue to grow and thrive."
The Gazette can also confirm 28 pitches will be cleared should plans be approved to redevelop Ridley Road Shopping Village.
Landlord Rainbow Properties last week submitted amended proposals to renovate and expand the indoor market, building five luxury flats and high-end office space, as well as 22 "retail units" for market traders on the ground floor.
Earlier this year Rainbow said there would be "no significant disturbance" to the street traders should its plans be approved, but a spokesperson has now told us 28 outdoor pitches would have to be moved for a year during the work.
Four of those are occupied by full-time traders, who it says have already agreed to move to nearby spaces following talks with the council. The other 24 are used by temporary traders, who have the "opportunity of moving to another pitch". Once work is finished traders will be offered the chance to return to their original space, Rainbow said.
The run-down indoor market is at the heart of the Save Ridley Road campaign, which aims to protect the historic market street from gentrification. It houses 60 units selling everything from textiles to records, and another 60 workshops for artists upstairs.
Last night the community came together outside the shopping village to discuss the campaign, and hang a banner from the top floor reading: "Save Ridley Road - beating heart of Hackney".
It comes as a last-ditch attempt by campaigners to make the building an Asset of Community Value is set to be decided by the council this month. That would give the community six months to get together a bid to buy the building should the landlord decide to sell, though there is no requirement for the landlord to engage.
Danny Hayward from Save Ridley Road and London Renters Union told guests people were coming up with plans for things in the street that have "nothing to do with people who have traded here their whole lives".
The 20 stallholders and the artists had been told they would be evicted at the end of last year. But in October the management company gave traders two weeks' notice to leave, saying they couldn't afford to install security measures demanded by police and were closing the market early.
The news, revealed by the Gazette, sparked widespread outrage and protests from the community and council, leading bosses at Rainbow to take over the lease and install the measures themselves.
But traders were given new six-month licences that gave Rainbow the right to evict them with 15 days' notice. After accusations of gentrification and social cleansing, Hackney mayor Phil Glanville told Rainbow to come back with new plans that benefited existing traders and locals.
The new plans also include 10 per cent affordable workspace, as per council policy. Traders say they've been told they will likely be moved out by July should the seemingly inevitable development go ahead. They will be given first refusal on the new units - but it will be at market rent, which many won't be able to afford.
Some had heated discussions with the council's markets team who passed by while the event took place on Tuesday. They were told the place was a "death trap" due to a lack of health and safety measures, as well as being rife with anti-social behaviour.
In a document attached to the planning application, architects Jestico and Whiles also say the building is in "very poor condition" and "suffers from design defects which encourage anti-social behaviour".
It adds: "Ridley Road market in its entirety is identified as an improvement area and as such the site is a target for improvement and potential redevelopment.
"The AAP (area action plan) identifies that, notwithstanding the Ridley Road Market Improvement Scheme, the council is seeking further regeneration of Ridley Road including the redevelopment of the market sites with retail and residential."
It also highlights the "emerging height precedent" in the Dalston area, using images of the 15-storey FiftySevenEast building in Kingsland Road development and other luxury blocks as a reference.