Agenda item

Market Strategy

To consider a report by the Market Panels’ s Officer Group.




The Panel considered a report by the Town Clerk which set out a proposed strategy for the operation of markets in Dorchester, the history of the markets and how they had evolved over time, how they operated, what the practical issues were for running them and what they achieved.


The fundamentals of the market – its purpose, its heritage and its legacy –

and what it had to offer to the town in terms of economic, social and civic

benefits together with how it had been managed, how it was being managed

and what visions there were for its future, were all considerations.


Options for how all Dorchester markets could remain vibrant and viable going forward were considered and were informed where any improvements and expansion might be able to be accommodated and how this might be done.


Given the limitations in being able to run the market as had been done prior to

the pandemic, trade - in terms of sales, browsing and passing trade – had all

been curtailed significantly over the recent months. Whilst this was generally

understandable, every effort had continued to be made to ensure what trade

possible was maintained, with social distancing rules being applied. Despite

the hardships experienced, there was still enthusiasm for pitches and being part of the set up by vendors.


The Panel saw this as welcomed news and, in recognising how popular the

markets all were, were pleased to see that there had been some resurgence in trade and interest now a degree of normality had returned. They acknowledged there was a loyal and dedicated patronage of the stalls and saw no reason why his shouldn’t continue to thrive into the future.


They were pleased to hear about what the planned strategy; how things were being done and what might be able to be done, and how this might be achieved.


The Panel considered what options there were for the future of Dorchester

markets - in terms of trading activities; locations; popularity and footfall;

access; legal and contractual commitments and obligations; and cultural and

social community considerations - with a presentation from the Town Clerk

facilitating this discussion and the panels understanding.


Accordingly they considered the options being recommended:-

• Explore grounds for an extension of the current lease beyond April 2026

• Prepare for a new procurement of the market operation from April 2026

• Bring management of the market in house from 2026 – note that neither Council currently has the skillset or resource to manage the Fairfield market


Irrespective of which long term solution was selected, it was important that in the short term, the Panel worked with Ensors to ensure that the market was well managed and well promoted.


Ensors had been offering to invest in the site in exchange for an extension to the lease for a number of years, and had also previously sought to acquire the site. Their view was that investment in buildings infrastructure was necessary to safeguard and rebuild the market. For a number of reasons, at any time, one or other or both Councils had not supported a lease extension. The Procurement Officer at Dorset Council had confirmed that the lease itself did not make provision for an extension and that there did not appear to be grounds for an exemption to introduce an extension. Nonetheless, Ensors remained keen for an extension to the lease.


Issues for consideration would be how the markets operated; how they could

best adapt to meet the needs of today’s consumer; what the means of doing

this would be; what arrangements were necessary to achieve this; what

rental, licencing and contractual arrangements were necessary to secure their

continuation; and how they could improve their efficiency to ensure viability

was maintained.


Town Council officers had explored the potential to co-ordinate a monthly programme (March-December) operating in the High Street and at Poundbury to provide a consistent approach to traders and to provide a consistent message to visitors, and in addition to liaise with the local business community to ensure that footfall benefits are felt more widely. This new market programme also offered an opportunity to determine new standards regarding the way the events will operate, for example in relation the climate or how products were sourced. One key consideration was who would expect to benefit financially from operating the markets and how this might be achieved. Fairs and other events should also be given consideration in the round.


As a market town, of the County Town, the Panel considered its markets were something of which to be rightly proud and was considered an asset in providing an opportunity for traders, a boost for the local economy and was a business seedbed. The Panel understood they all played their part in attracting footfall locally and from visitors afar and acted as a means of social service - providing value for money goods that were not necessarily able to be sourced by other means. It was community focused, vibrant and stimulated local contact, being adaptable in reflecting changing needs and trends.


The Panel appreciated having the opportunity to be able to review of issues

considering that, as well as the economic benefits to be gained, the social and

welfare benefits of the market were of considerable value too.


Whatever options were available, it was accepted that the markets should be

invigorated so as to provide something unique and relevant to the customer of

today, to meet their expectations - were that be more street food outlets,

demonstrations or heritage exhibitions.

This would go a long way to ensuring their viability was maintained

and gave a valid reason for people to continue to visit it in the numbers

previously seen. It was accepted that the pandemic had seriously affected

what could be done in the recent past, but they saw no reason why this trend

couldn’t be reversed going forward.


Consideration would continue to be given to the differing scenarios and various options with regard to trade, performance and management of the different market entities, in identifying and assessing how this could be best achieved so as to serve as some basis for how the markets could operate successfully going forward.


The Panel acknowledged the benefits of what the markets brought to

Dorchester and what they each had to offer in their own way, not only as an

entity – as a means of trading goods, services and produce which might not

otherwise be readily accessible directly between suppliers and public - but

their wider value and contribution too, in attracting visitors to the town and as

a social and community asset. Moreover, in being an historic market town, the

essence of maintaining a viable and successful market was critical to the

fabric and vitality of Dorchester.


Most importantly the Panel wanted to see them successful and continue

contributing to the economy of the town and be seen as a social and

community asset for years to come and there was a considerable will to see

these valued assets succeed.


It was considered that the pandemic had provided the opportunity to reassess and re calibrate what was being done and the process for doing it. Whilst the principles on what to do, how to do it and, where it should be done were accepted, it was recognised that there was a need for the strategy to be implemented and built upon to ensure any success was maintained.


As part of this they agreed that it would be in the interests of Dorchester and beneficial to prepare for a new procurement of the market operation from April 2026, with Ensors still being able to tender for a continuation of their operations. This option would provide for a re-evaluation and reset of what Dorchester wanted from its markets, how they should be operated and what improvements could be gained in doing so.


The Panel considered that, in the circumstances, what was being proposed was as practicable as it could be in managing the way in which the markets operated and in them being prepared to meet future needs and trends.



That the recommended Option be to authorise officers to prepare for a new procurement of the market operation from April 2026.






Supporting documents: