Future of Batley and Birstall’s markets hanging in the balance

Stall holders at Batley market. (D553E444)
Stall holders at Batley market. (D553E444)

For generations, the open markets in Batley and Birstall have stood proudly as a vital sign of trade, amenity and community spirit.

But with Kirklees Council’s budget plans, they are under as much threat as other services in the district and could face closure if cuts go ahead.

For 50 years Stephen Early has run family clothes shop Rothery’s on the Batley market, alongside his sister Kathleen Colan-Ainsworth.

Kathleen, of Mirfield, said: “How can they take our livelihoods? Rothery’s has been going for more than 100 years. How can they close the market down? All they are bothered about is supermarkets taking over. It’s our bread and butter. You can’t just shut them down.”

Stephen, of Liversedge, said: “It’s a service to the public – they expect us to be here.”

He said can remember the market in its heyday, filling what is now the neighbouring car park adding that he understands the council has to make cuts, but thinks they should look internally.

“It’s streamlining,” he said. “They haven’t offered us any options, which is not how business is done. They need to look at it like a business. We haven’t had a meeting to discuss the markets.”

The siblings, like many traders, are frustrated that the council described the markets as “loss-making” in its spending review, but uses private contractors to put up the stalls.

Leslie Battye, who sells wallets and bags, said: “They could save money by using their own people. They just waste money in my opinion.”

Mr Battye, 58, opened his stall, along with those at Birstall and Brighouse, a decade ago after a triple bypass meant he had to leave his job of 12 years as a steward at Staincliffe Sports and Social Club.

He now fears that, should the markets shut down, his employment options would dry up.

He said: “When you have had health problems at my age, who’s going to take you on? They might interview you, but at the end it’s ‘thanks but no thanks’. They will go for someone younger and healthier.”

Philip Wilby, a trader of 35 years who sells bedsheets and duvets, said: “The markets can’t be loss-making. They might not be earning, but they are not losing.”

Even so, Philip who lives in Wakefield and has stalls in Huddersfield, Normanton and Pontefract, thinks the Tesco in Bradford Road was “the nail in the coffin.

“The markets used to go right up to the swimming baths. When we have been here all those years, you expect a little bit back.”

Lazar Masih, who sells Indian materials and scarves. said: “When I told customers, they were really upset because they don’t have a car and come in by walking. I’m happy here.”

Bob Firth, who mans the pet stall with wife Nicki, said: “If they want to close them, they will.” But he added other markets have faced similar threats in Yorkshire towns for years, without being closed.

But all the traders know the one thing open markets still specialise in – the service.

Shoppers like the conversation, charm and community aspect of visiting the stalls, especially the older people.

“We have a lot of regular customers who come every week without fail,” Bob said.

Kirklees need to cut £70m over the next three years, bringing its savings to £152m by the end of the financial year 2017-2018.

The final budget plan will be set by full council on February 18, when the markets’ fates are decided.