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North Laine with a roof on top: open market gets a new look

Photo: Polina Belehhova

Plans for a reported £17m redevelopment of the historic Brighton Open Market have been approved.

Ideas for a new market were first conceived in April 2006, when the Council’s Policy and Resource Committee commissioned a detailed study to look into the feasibility and possible designs of such a venture.

Now, five years on, the market can look forward to a complete revamp, linked to a project currently in place to regenerate the wider area around London road. The general concept is reported to be ‘North Laine with a roof on top’.

The blueprints for the new face of the market have been drafted by LCE Architects, the group behind the Jubilee Library, a facility that has won numerous design awards since its opening in 2005. They are said to have taken inspiration from Old Spitalfields and Borough Market in London.

A completely covered market will provide 44 permanent stalls, as well as 12 workshops for arts and crafts, all facing inwards around a central square layout.

The Council has been promoting the venture as a “social enterprise for the benefit of the community”, that will place an emphasis on providing fresh, healthy and, importantly, locally sourced produce.

When not being used by the visiting retailers, the square will become a recreational space, with an entertainment programme featuring street art and performers.

As part of the project, 87 new affordable and energy-efficient homes will also be built, with Francis Street converted to residential mews and plans for improvements to be made to the public areas around there and Marshalls Rows.

Some have raised concerns about these new proposals. CorporateWatch, a group dedicated to challenging corporatisation and gentrification in Brighton, fear that the result will be “a glitzy new market with higher rents”.

They are strong supporters of the current market, praising it for its affordable produce and diverse retailers, “from organic food cooperatives to peddlers of legal psychedelic products”, and would hate to see the new market offer shoppers higher prices for homogenous and unoriginal goods.

However, Tom Shaw of the project developer Hyde Housing, has stressed that an emphasis has been placed upon prices not becoming an issue, and has described the target as “to create an exciting mixed use development combining an outstanding modern day market with affordable housing.”

In fact, it is hoped that Brighton enterprises who cannot afford North Laine rents will be attracted to the site.

Hyde has commented on their close working relationship with the Open Market Traders Association from the project’s birth, and the scheme has received positive feedback from many of the current Open market retailers. Amongst them, Paul Reynolds has said
“We have been working towards a development for seven years. Every single aspect of the development has been taken into account

“The plans put emphasis on local producers and independent business, formed for the benefit of the community”.

The recent approval will come as a relief to supporters of the redevelopment, as many saw it as under threat following the Council meeting on 15 February, in which the decision to approve funding for the project was deferred.

However, funding from the Housing and Communities Agency is conditional upon meeting a deadline of 15 March for both planning consent to be obtained and a building contract signed, and so this posed risk of running out of time.

Without the £4.5 million funding, Hyde would likely deem the scheme unfeasible.

However, with this decision, the plans are back on schedule. The next step requires Hyde and the Open Market Traders Association to seek landowners consent from the Council, in which there will be a further study into the new designs’ financial viability and future sustainability.

Once construction begins, completion should take up to 2 years, during which time temporary stalls will set up for the traders.

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