Many traders are uncertain about their future at Birkenhead Market, after a major council u-turn.
Earlier this year, Wirral Council said the market would move to a temporary site at St Werburghs Square in 2022 for at least three years, before a new permanent site was ready.
But at a committee meeting on Wednesday night, Cllr Tony Jones said that after discussions with traders earlier this month, it was decided that the market will be moved just once, from the current site to the new permanent one.
Cllr Jones, who represents Labour, added that the council could not say when the move to the permanent site, or the demolition of the current market, would take place at this stage.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, David French, chair of The Birkenhead Market Tenants Association, thanked the committee for taking that decision.
Mr French added that he was working with traders on a plan to move to the former Marks and Spencer building in the town, a move that is popular with many stall owners, although Wirral Council has previously told traders that it cannot secure this building.
Speaking at the market today on the decision to scrap the St Werburghs Square plan, Kevin Goodman, who runs a ladies clothing stall, said: “Nothing is ideal. Nothing will keep everyone happy.”
But he added that St Werburghs Square is too small and that staying at the current site for three years would be difficult as too many traders are leaving.
One plan Mr Goodman thought could work is a move to the old Marks and Spencer site, he continued: “I’m all for that if it is feasible and if it is possible. Dave [French] feels it definitely is possible.”
Fellow store owner Monica Riley, who runs Monica’s Bags, said: “We’re better off in here than over there [pointing to St Werburghs Square].”
She was enthusiastic about the prospect of moving to the Marks and Spencer site.
Monica said: “That’s really positive. That’s the best idea. We would be in the centre, we would also get a different clientele, it’s a perfect spot.”
But if that plan does not come off, Monica was not so sure about her future presence at the market.
She said she would stay at the current site for the next three years if there is enough trade, but if things do not pick up she would have to go as it would be unaffordable to stay.
Other traders also liked the sound of moving to the former M&S site, but were worried about the situation at the current market.
Jas Sidhu, who runs a fashion store, said there were “no customers” coming past his stall, but he still had to pay rent.
If the M&S move came off, Mr Sidhu thought it would help to pick up business for him and other traders.
But some traders were far more pessimistic.
Birkenhead Decorating Centre is set to close after its boss handed in his notice to give the stall up.
Sam Williams, its owner, said there was not enough footfall to keep the business going and that he would have to make his three employees redundant.
Strikingly, Mr Williams said things were so bad that most people think the market is closed.
Tom Roberts, who owns Moneysworth butchers, said the current market was “shocking” and that he did not want to be there for another three years.
But on the idea of moving to the old M&S site, both Mr Williams and Mr Roberts were sceptical unless the council was on board.
Dhillon Sohan, who runs Dhillon’s Shoes, was also unsure about the future.
Asked about ideas such as the move to M&S, he told the LDRS: “It’s like a dream.”
On his own business, he added: “I am struggling. Too many stalls are closing, we need more stalls and a bigger variety if it [the market] is to stay open.
“I keep thinking, shall I stay open for a few more weeks and see or shall I quit?”
However, Joe Fletcher, who runs a carpet store, was positive about the council’s own plans.
He said footfall at St Werburghs Square may have been better than footfall at the current market, but there was not enough space at the now ditched site.
Mr Fletcher thought the end of that plan would allow the council to focus on making the new permanent market good.
He added: “People keep complaining, but there are some really successful, exciting stalls here.
“This market is a lot bigger than other markets, that’s why it looks empty.”
On plans for the future, Mr Fletcher made a suggestion. He said: “A smaller market might be really successful. Change is tough, but you have to modernise.”
He thought the council’s vision for the new permanent site was good.
Commenting on the market’s future in July, a spokesperson for Wirral Council said: “Wirral Council remains committed to ensuring the future success and long term viability of Birkenhead Market and has placed the market at the centre of its plans for the massive regeneration of Birkenhead.
“The redevelopment of the town centre is currently underway and expected to accelerate in the coming months.
“This will see a new, modern market tailored to meet the needs of customers and traders, built in the heart of the town centre.”