Traders at Birmingham’s wholesale markets face years stuck at their “not fit for purpose” Digbeth site following delays in the £100 million plan to move them out of town.
Wholesalers have been forced to put up with leaking roofs and potholes at the 35-year-old markets, but were last year promised a new home in Witton touted as a potential food tourism destination recognised on a European scale.
But now Prupim, the council’s preferred bidder to develop the new site at The Hub, has admitted its original timescale had been revised and said no planning permission had yet been submitted for the next generation markets.
Under Prupim’s original plans, traders would have moved to Witton, the former premises of IMI, by January 2012. Now wholesalers have no idea when the move will go ahead.
Traders at the market say they had been told the move had been delayed because of funding issues at the council, but a Prupim spokesman said it was down to the complexity of the scheme.
Now the 4,000 businesses dependant on the wholesale markets face a period in limbo waiting for the consultation and planning application process to finally go through.
Peter Marshall, director of fruit and vegetable wholesaler Hegashall, said the uncertainty around the move was having a serious effect on businesses at the wholesale markets.
“We’re very much in limbo – we don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “Our leases ran out in August last year and we are now on a 12-month rolling lease. We can’t invest here because we don’t know how long we are going to be here.
“We can’t think about getting new kit – things like new fridges and racking – because we could be here for another three years or another 10 years.”
Birmingham City Council acknowledged last year, when it announced plans for the move, that the current site was “no longer fit for purpose”.
“The roof is completely shot,” addedMr Marshall.
“It leaks very badly – it doesn’t exactly encourage people to come down here when they see the state of the market. There are potholes which cause health and safety issues as you can’t see them when there’s water on the ground.”
He said problems with working conditions – along with the difficulties in recruiting staff prepared to get up at 2.30am six days a week – were contributing to a “slow decline” in the markets.
“It puts a lot of people off because of the hours and the working conditions. We have difficulties in recruiting.”
Moss Prottey, director of fruit and vegetable wholesale firm George Perry, said he was also in the dark about how long he would have to put up with the deteriorating conditions.
“We’ve had no information – we’re working on five years but that’s guesswork.”
His company has been forced to develop impromptu ways of protecting equipment and offices from the elements, although he says the council is looking at fixing the roof.
“We put towels over the printer where we print the bills out,” Mr Prottey said. “I’ve got a bucket next to where I sit.”
The central 21-acre site the markets would leave would open up a major opportunity for redevelopment in the run-down part of Digbeth, with US firm Hines the favourite to land the contract to mastermind the scheme.
But the longer the markets stay put, ambitions to expand city centre retail or create a new entertainment zone with open air markets, theatres and cafes remain on ice.
William Rooke, associate development director at Prupim, stressed the developer was still committed to delivering a new home for the wholesale markets.
“We are in discussions with the council to achieve an affordable scheme design and we anticipate we will be back in touch with all the local stakeholders this autumn to consult on the proposals, at which point we will also outline a revised timetable for the submission of a planning application to the council and the relocation of the markets.”
Birmingham City Council insisted it had never spoken in terms of timescales for the markets’ relocation.
A spokesman said: “We are in discussions with Prupim about relocation to the Witton site and hope to bring a report to the Council’s cabinet with more detail before the end of the year.”