Traders running the 22 street stalls at the heart of Birmingham’s shopping district claim they will be ‘terminated’ by a raft of ‘impossible’ new rules and regulations being planned by the city council.
Proposals include having to remove their stalls every day, but if new 7am to 7pm traffic limitations were also enforced the traders would could end up working 14 hour days, seven days a week.
The traders are calling for public support to save them in a week when BirminghamLive has been revealing how:
- Some experts fear the city’s 854-year-old Bull Ring Markets might not collectively last beyond the next year.
The city’s street traders currently paying more than £640 per month for their pitches have until late February to respond to the proposed new terms and conditions about how they operate.
The traders say if the proposals are implemented they will be forced to quit and will have been ‘terminated’.
For 30 years, Allan has been working from a pitch on the corner of New Street and High Street.
For the past nine months he has been in the shadow of the ‘world’s biggest Primark’ which he says has increased footfall but attracted more pedlars and preachers, too.
On a day when he can’t face opening his own stall after pouring out his heart for more than two hours, a preacher with a megaphone suddenly starts pontificating from a position just yards from Allan’s stall.
Allan said: “We pay for everything and are being threatened with having our entire livelihoods taken away from us.”
In a statement reproduced in full below, Birmingham City Council said all of the plans were ‘proposals’ and that traders, businesses and city centre residents alike were encouraged to join the debate using the online links provided or by attending a public drop-in session at the Council House on Wednesday, February 12 from 3.30pm to 6.30pm.
The council’s plans
Traders claim they are being told that under its planned new terms and conditions none of them will be able to leave their stalls locked up overnight and will instead have to move in and out of the city on a daily basis in the future.
Other terms reportedly say they would have to work from ‘inside the box’ of any stall.
That would stop traders using any floor space to sell goods and they would be unable to hang anything up either – making some of the existing stalls non-viable without replacing them.
Meanwhile, the council is also currently consulting with city centre businesses about restricting all commercial vehicle delivery access to the central area between the hours of 7am and 7pm.
Traders say that would mean having to set their future mobile stalls up before 7am each day before leaving to park their vehicles.
They would then have to wait til 7pm before being able to drive back in to the heat of the city to retrieve their stalls.
Realistically, that would mean leaving home before 6am and not getting back home until 8pm, traffic permitting, if they live in the city.
Birmingham Street Traders’ Association chairman Allan Poole feels there is a ‘hidden agenda’ to get the changes implemented in time for the Commonwealth Games.
Allan said: “We are even being told we might only be able to use our own pitch for several days per week, say Monday to Wednesday.
“On top of that, the new terms and conditions say we would have to pay a year’s rent up front and there would also be a new ten per cent admin charge.
“We are licensed under the ‘Highways’ department and are being told we can only deal with the council on an individual basis, not collectively, and that we have no right of appeal to any decision.
“What is the hidden agenda here?”
The chairman of the Birmingham Street Traders’ Association has had his Central Flowers’ pitch at the point where New Street meets High Street for 30 years.
Allan Poole works there with his wife Samantha seven days per week.
Now 56, he spent his childhood helping his father to sell flowers on the old Bull Ring Markets from 1976.
With his own four-year-old granddaughter recently taking an interest in his current New Street site he knows his stall could become a four-generation business in time.
Changing trends during the three decades he has passionately worked for himself on New Street means Allan now concentrates on souvenirs – just the thing he hopes visitors to the city for the Commonwealth Games would want to buy.
He says he only sells flowers now on days like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day and points out that there is just one flower trader left on the new Wholesale Market when there used to be more than a dozen in the heyday of the old one.
But while traders are battling the economy, discount stores and internet, it’s the city council’s plans for new terms and conditions that have left him shellshocked.
Allan told BirminghamLive: “The city council’s new plans affect every trader in Birmingham from the 22 street stalls in the city centre to others in Northfield, Sutton Coldfield and even those who operate at football matches.
“Our businesses would have to be terminated under the new terms and conditions because we just could not operate.
“(Hopefully) we can get good public support to get behind us and say having street traders is a good thing for the city – if managed properly, we can work things out and move forward.”
Looking ahead to the benefit of the Commonwealth Games in 2022, Allan says: “Visitors from all over the world could come and see what we have on offer.
“We do a good thing for the city, we sell good produce and goods.”
What would the cost to the city be if the traders lost their pitches before then?
“Visitors would lose the ambiance of the city and the street traders,” says Allan.
“Birmingham was built around trading and markets and it’s falling in to a state where it’s not going to be here.”
A survey by BirminghamLive at the start of the German Market on November 7 revealed that almost one in five units on New Street were empty or under refurbishment – i.e. not trading during the busiest time of the year.
Allan, who was told by the council in 2015 that he could not play any Christmas music on his stall, says: “We are always here in all weathers seven days per week, but there are a lot of empty shops nearby and we are fighting to try to help to keep those alive, too.
“It’s all about having a variety of shopping experience.
“Shops, stalls on streets – that’s mixed used.”
Allan claims the stalls on Edgbaston Street left when they were allegedly charged “four times as much for having four sides to their units”.
“The worst restriction now is that we are not going to be able to trade with the units that we have got.
“Why should we give up our pitches, but we feel that if one stall goes we all might go.
“(Our current units) are going to be totally unsuitable and don’t fall into the new remit of what the council want.
“It’s not even down to the cost. The new conditions won’t allow us to trade.
“We trade ‘outside of the box’ of the unit that we are in, and they are saying we’ve got to trade from inside the unit which is impossible for us to do.”
If they were forced off the streets, couldn’t Allan go back to his family’s roots on the Bull Ring Markets given the number of vacancies on all three sites?
“I wouldn’t go and trade there even if I was given free rent,” says Allan.
“The council has let them go and there just isn’t the footfall to justify being there.”
Allan says relations with the council have deteriorated greatly since the traders’ main point of contact of 30 years left two years years ago and said “its policies are now contradictory”.
“We formed the Traders’ Association to have a seat at the table (of decision making) and would meet four times a year,” he says.
“But then the council started to cancel them.
“There were consultations in 2015 and nothing came of them – after the council asked us to do so, I paid to have designs drawn up to show how attractive street stalls could look but the problem was that you can’t have the same design for everybody.
“We serve ‘outside the box’ on our pitch, but now the council wants us to serve ‘inside the box’.
“Now the council wants us to take our stalls away every day, but that creates new problems – with people walking around staring at their phones etc you need banksmen to do that in a pedestrianised area, then there are the anti-terror obstacles, trams and so on to negotiate as well as traffic jams.
“Personally, I don’t want to have to drive into the city every day.
“Because I can currently leave my stock here after closing my unit, I often cycle in to town on a folding bike which means no carbon footprint.
“I haven’t brought a vehicle into town every day now for five years and isn’t that what the council wants?
“But if I had to bring my stall in and out every day I would then be driving, which is what the council says it doesn’t want, and I would also be hit by the clean air zone charge.
“The German Market stalls are allowed to stay overnight so what are they going to do with them – we’ve been here far longer.”
The human cost of change
Allan and Samantha say the council’s stance is having a human cost on their wellbeing, but they won’t give in.
“We go to bed thinking about it, we wake up thinking about it, we lie awake at night and you think about different things at different times of the day,” says Allan.
“Everything is constantly on your mind.
“And then you are thinking about other people’s problems as well. How would those working for the council like it if they were effectively being told to reapply for their jobs every year.
“That is how we are being treated, but how can you plan for anything like or invest “£20,000 in a stall and pay a year’s rent up front if you don’t know you are going to be there next year?”
Samantha says: “It’s so distressing and just not fair.”
Heath Cogger who runs the nearby Donuts stall on High Street says: “We’ve noticed that that the only customers we get are from the outskirts of the city, nobody is travelling in from afar.
“And if the council really wants to enforce rules about trading from the floor, what about all the shops that spill out on to pavements of streets like the Stratford and Soho Roads?
“Are they going to enforce their rules and regulations there, too?
“The markets are in a bad position with a lack of advertising and service from the council.
“It seems like they are trying to push people out or get them to throw the towel in – personally I think the council wants to sell off the Rag Market site.”
Passing by to join us is Mark Burrows who runs two stalls on the Rag Market, including kitchen and homeware.
He says the Rag Market still has many positives and he has lots of regular customers – and wishes BirminghamLive could have taken a more upbeat view of its future prospects.
And yet even he admits the overall picture is bleak.
“How have we gone from having THE best best markets in the country to one of the worst?” he asks.
“Where the enthusiasm (from the council) has gone I don’t know.
“We could still have a good future, but we are lacking a proper partnership between the traders and the council.”
The council’s terms presented to Allan Poole
Condition 25 of the Street Trading Terms and Conditions states: The unit will be of a mobile type and must be removed after trading has ceased unless otherwise authorised by the Markets Department.
Canopies: No goods can be hung or displayed on or from the canopy.
Trading area: Goods cannot be displayed outside the areas of the unit e.g. via build-outs, externally hung on the unit, sited on the public realm around the unit, or by any other means. All produce / stock must be located and displayed within the unit.
Goods cannot be displayed directly on the ground and must be presented from a product specific display unit (e.g. tiered shelving for flowers).
Unit compliance: The unit shall be of a high quality design, with robust construction and materials that the daily removal will not result in the rapid deterioration in appearance of the unit.
Appeal against revocation: There is no statutory right of appeal against an officer’s decision to revoke a consent.
Birmingham City Council’s response to BirminghamLive
We asked the city council about many of Allan’s points, but specifically the clash between the proposals to make traders remove their stalls every day at the same time as potentially preventing them from driving in and out of the central area between the hours of 7am and 7pm. This is the council’s statement in full.
“Proposals for both a new street trading policy and the introduction of a traffic regulation order (TRO), are subject to ongoing public consultations – which anyone who lives, works or visits the city centre can have their say on – and therefore no decisions will be made until that feedback has been reviewed.
“The proposed new street trading policy seeks to update the conditions under which a consent to street trade would be granted, and that consultation closes on February 23, 2020.
“Meanwhile a separate consultation on proposed improvements to the city centre public realm, which outlines plans for a TRO, is also taking place and closes on February 21, 2020.”
The council says that anyone wishing to take part in either consultation can do so by visiting the Birmingham Be Heard website at this link here
Here are the direct links to each of the consultations:
City Centre Public Realm Improvements consultation – closes 21 February 2020. Full details here
Street Trading Policy consultation – closes February 23, 2020. Full details here
A second drop-in session for the city centre public realm proposals will take place at the Council House on Wednesday (February 12) between 3.30pm and 6.30pm, when people can find out more about the scheme and have their say.
Once the Commonwealth Games Bill is passed, that will affect street trading for a period up to and during the games.
For the second week running, BirminghamLive has asked to interview any council official willing to talk about the plight of the traders on the Bullring Open Market, Rag Market, Indoor Market, Wholesale Market and now the Street Traders who all want to be showing off the city’s extraordinary trading history to its best advantage come the Commonwealth Games in just 30 months’ time.
Nobody has been put forward to face questions on behalf of all of the above.