Thumbs Up for Winchester Markets

An independent study of attitudes towards the busy weekly programme of markets in Winchester Town Centre has been completed this week.  Although the markets have been the subject of some controversy locally, the results show overwhelming support for the whole range of markets.

Research experts Tourism South East were commissioned by Winchester City Council to carry out face to face surveys with residents and visitors alike in order to obtain some impartial evidence on which to base future plans for the market. Questions were devised by the team at Tourism South East, and approved by staff at the Winchester Business Improvement District.

All in all, 220 interviews were carried out in December 2011 and February this year. 100 of these were interviews on non-market days, to ensure that views were captured from those who were not using the markets as well as those who did. December was chosen deliberately to explore concerns that had been raised about overcrowding during an already busy retail period.

Of all those surveyed, 88% agreed or strongly agreed that the markets add to the vitality and vibrancy of the city centre, with only 3% stating that they did not. 79% felt that they extended the choice of goods available, and 83% said that the markets provided opportunities to buy local produce and so reduce their carbon footprints.

By contrast, 73% disagreed that the town became unpleasantly overcrowded as a result of the markets, and 77% disagreed that the market made it hard for them to visit the shops. Only 5% of interviewees felt that the markets brought the area down or were ‘tacky’ and 4% felt less safe on market days.  Meanwhile, over 90% felt the markets were wholly in keeping with Winchester’s image as a visitor destination.

There was good news for retailers, too. Whilst the market stalls clearly appealed to a wide range of shoppers and visitors, the average spend on market goods was £8.01 per person whilst the average spend in local shops was £20.31 per person. So whilst market stalls appear to be popular for purchasing food and drink, most retail expenditure is still taking place in local shops. Among residents who regularly use the markets, only 7% of the weekly grocery bill is spent with market stalls.

Cllr George Beckett, Leader of Winchester City Council, said,

This is an important step forward for our markets programme. We have always felt it to be a key ingredient in maintaining a vibrant, attractive and successful city centre, but it is helpful to have this resounding public endorsement. The research does seem to ‘put to bed’ a number of concerns that have been raised, such as the impact on year-round retailers, congestion in the High Street and the image of Winchester.

This is one more piece of evidence on which we can build our future policy. We will still wish to see year-on-year footfall figures for the City Centre, and we will continue to listen to the BID. We will also continue to examine the data collected by Tourism South East to check that we aren’t missing any underlying ‘stories’. 

I certainly think these results provide reassurance to everyone about the Council’s commitment to ensuring that our City Centre flourishes and evolves, at a time when so many others are lined with empty shops.”

Cllr Brian Collin, Chair of Winchester Town Forum said,

I think this illustrates the improvements that have been made since the market first opened. The High Street is much less congested and the quality of the produce is higher - especially in the food market. I'm looking forward to further improvements each year."

Tourism South East’s Research Manager will be presenting the findings to the BID Committee next week, and the Council’s Cabinet will take decisions about the markets programme for 2012/13 at its March meeting.