Huge problems facing Newcastle’s historic Grainger Market

Problems facing one of the country’s best known indoor markets have been laid bare in a report to councillors.

Newcastle City Council has been told that empty stalls at the Grainger Market have been made “impossible” to fill because of the Covid crisis.

The historic market, which dates back to 1835 and is a Grade-I listed building, has been named by Newcastle City Council among a few key city centre assets that are struggling financially, due to dwindling occupancy.

The council has also been told that the retail crisis hitting the city’s nearby Eldon Square shopping centre is “wiping out every other good initiative that we have got”.

Government food advisor Henry Dimbleby visits Newcastle’s Grainger Market
(Image: publicity handout from Food and Drink North East)

The city council was unable to confirm on Thursday how many of the Grainger Market’s 116 stalls are empty, but trader Leslie Armstrong said there are now “quite a few” vacant units.

Paul Stewart, the council’s head of property, told councillors at a finance scrutiny meeting on Wednesday that its commercial property portfolio was performing “rather well, other than one or two key assets”.

He listed the Grainger Market as one key issue “pulling us down”, as well as the Partnership House office building in Gosforth – where the collapse of Carillion forced the council to renegotiate rents with its tenants at a much lower rate.

City centre councillor Jane Byrne said that independent traders like those at the Grainger Market were “never more important” than now, with Mr Stewart responding that the market was the “antidote to the high street” and had been vital to help people get essential supplies during lockdown.

The city council has spent around £4m on a renovation of the 14 entrances and roof of the Grainger Market, which dates back to 1835, but has taken flak from some of its businesses over recent years due to declining trade, a lack of advertising, and for refusing to cut rents to reflect the devastating impact of the pandemic.

A council spokesperson said: “The Grainger Market is part of the fabric of the city.

“Not only is it Grade I Listed but it’s hugely popular with residents and visitors offering a diverse range of products and services from independent traders committed to serving the community as shown throughout the pandemic.

“However, to safeguard the future of the market we must ensure the building is in good condition which is why we have invested in new entrances and refurbishment of the roof – though this remains very expensive due to the historical importance of the building.

“The pandemic has made it impossible to market and so reduce the vacant stalls as we had planned to do over a year ago, yet we remain committed to working with the existing traders to attract new traders, so the market thrives again and has a bright future.”

It was revealed in November that the value of Newcastle City Council’s major financial stake in Eldon Square, from which it collects 40% of the net income, had plummeted by more than £50m because of the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic.

Mr Stewart said on Wednesday that Eldon Square is “such a big ticket item that it is wiping out every other good initiative that we have got within the city”, with the Covid crisis having accelerated the shift towards online shopping.

Eldon Square is now under new management following the collapse of previous operator Intu, and one of its biggest stores is being wound down – after Debenhams went into liquidation.

Michelle Percy, the city council’s director of place, told Wednesday’s meeting that the city centre’s remaining big retailers do want to stay in Newcastle – but with downsized “smaller footprints”.

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