Agenda item

Presentation of an overview of Dorchester Markets

To receive and consider a presentation of an overview on Dorchester markets.


The Panel received a presentation updating on 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. How it had been

managed, how it was being managed and what visions there were for its

future were all detailed.


As a market town, of the County Town, it was something of which to be rightly proud and was considered an asset, on Council owned land, in supporting other Council activities. It provided an opportunity for traders, a boost for the local economy and was a business seedbed. It attracted footfall locally and from visitors afar and acted as a 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.


In terms of finances, the net surplus distributed was allocated 65% to Dorset Council, 35% to the Town Council, this being some £123k in 2018/19, with the net surplus from the Car Boot being distributed as community grants – some £19k in 2018/19.


However, there were issues which needed to be addressed these being falling footfall and income; Ensors’ contract ending in 2026 and the management arrangements at Fairfield, with limited offer and loss of retail offer being of concern at the Cornhill site.


To address these issues, engagement in partnership with Dorset Council was needed on an asset review so as to:-

        develop a strategy for the markets

        improvements to the communication with the Fairfield operator

        planning for the end of the current Fairfield operator contract

        a review of markets management arrangements

        engagement with stakeholders about Cornhill/South Street offer and how to improve this.


The Panel appreciated this 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.


It was accepted that the Fairfield market 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 the market’s 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.


Given that during that period the market still operated as best it could and attracted custom, there was an obligation to ensure this loyalty was recognised in the coming months and years so that it remained a place attractive to go and spend time.


The Panel noted the differing scenarios with regard to trade and performance

of the different market entities. It was disappointing to see the decline in

performance and returns from the weekly Dorchester market but the reasons

for this were understood and recognised. However, the Panel considered that,

in recent years, significant investment had been made in the infrastructure of

the site to benefit Ensors and what it was able to offer. What options there were for the market’s operations and management in the future and how this could be best achieved needed to be identified and assessed, which would serve as some basis for how the market could operate successfully going forward.


The Panel acknowledged the benefits of the market and what it not only had

to offer in itself 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 its wider value and contribution too, in attracting

visitors to the town and what that too had to offer. 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. Issues for

consideration would be how the market operated; how it 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 its continuation; and how

it could improve its efficiency to ensure its viability was maintained. The Panel

wanted it to be successful and continue contributing to the economy of the

town and be seen as a social and community asset for years to come.


Whilst recognising the challenges the market faced as a commercial

enterprise the Panel considered that there was a considerable will to see it

succeed. Maintaining a positive relationship between both Councils and

Ensors was essential in this being achieved and members saw no reason why

this shouldn’t be the case. It was in the interests of all parties for this to

happen and, it was anticipated that a means of doing this might be

identified so as to ensure the long term successful future of this valued asset.


The Panel considered that issues at their meeting in January should be made readily accessible as normal, and as far as practicable, but it was recognised that some part of that meeting should be held in confidential session so that finances and commercial contract arrangements could be discussed whilst respecting the sensitivities of this.