Watney Market traders angry over disruption caused by £3m improvements

Makshudur Rahman’s Jewellery stall temporary location until completed works. Pic: Maraam Nusair

By Mia Soares and Maraam Nusair

Some traders at Watney Market in Shadwell are angry over temporary arrangements while the market is undergoing £2.89 million worth of improvements to upgrade safety and health standards.

The work comes after a report for after the Tower Hamlets High Streets & Town Centre strategy report. Council identified concerns surrounding limited customer facilities, waste management, antisocial behaviour and cleanliness in the area. There are also safety concerns surrounding the sprinkler systems in place being unreliable in the case of a fire.

Tower Hamlets Council is working alongside engineering companies Metis and Riney to place a new drainage system, an updated sprinkler system and gates for the residential underground parking lot, a new market concourse, and remedial work.

The local stall owners and traders had to temporarily move to a market level adjacent to Tarling Street and Watney Street. Many of the local traders have already faced challenges to their business in the last two weeks and believe a rent reduction should have been offered by the council for the loss of business caused by the disruption.

Pauline Duffy, a trader alongside her husband for almost 30 years, told EastLondonLines the stall owners were given the option of giving up their license for three months if they didn’t want to work while refurbishment was underway, otherwise to “figure it out” for themselves.

She said: “For the last two weeks, we’ve had to fend for ourselves. We literally had to move everything.

“Since we came down here two weeks ago, we’ve been trying to even just get a sign to say, ‘market this way’, if you walk past the original market you’d think we’re not here.”

While the relocated stalls have been moved just around the corner, some stalls remain in their original place, with construction works being carried out behind them, making it easy to assume the market ends there.

Last Saturday, one of the stall owners at the end of the street did not make enough profit to cover the days rent.

Makshudur Rahman, a trader at the market for four years, has had to relocate his stall to the end of Commercial Road, blocked by electric bike docking stations, has experienced less footfall as a result: “We need some compensation from the council.”

While the plan for Watney Market hopes to encourage more members of the community to shop locally and support small businesses, Duffy is not so hopeful: “I don’t think it will help increase profits in the long term, they did a similar thing about 20 years ago, but it was so neglected over the years, they used to clean it every weekend, but it hasn’t been cleaned in years.”

She doesn’t believe that “a few fancy gazebos and a nice bit of paving stones” will draw more people in, as stated in the action plan by Tower Hamlets council for increased passing trade.

Duffy added: “We’re in an area where you only get one type of shopper, you only get the local community. The market dates back 140 years, it’s never been a fancy market and it never will be a fancy market. Its a traditional east end market.”

Pauline Duffy and her husband in their stall selling home goods. Pic: Maraam Nusair

Another stall owner, Akik Miah, who has been trading at the market for four years, said he’s experienced less customers due to relocating his stall. However, he is hopeful that while they will be suffering for a few months, he believes there will be long term benefit once the market is completed.

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, said that the schedule of these new improvements has started in January to avoid trading period peaks. He also greatly appreciates “the cooperation of our residents, business owners and market traders” during this period.

“We recognise that these works will cause some disruption to the local area however, they are set to significantly improve the market concourse and underground car park, increase community safety, and reduce anti-social behaviour in the area – creating a welcoming destination for residents, traders and visitors alike.

“I strongly encourage our residents to continue to shop in their locality, whether that be at the market stalls in their new locations, or at the shops which will remain open. I look forward to seeing the progress of the works and visiting the area once they are complete.”

The improvement work started on January 24 and will continue between 8:00am and 5:00pm from Monday to Friday until May 1.

Watney Market traders temporarily relocated to Commercial St. Pic: Maraam Nusair

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