Traders ‘devastated’ after Romford Sunday market is scrapped

Market traders have said they are “devastated” by Havering Council’s decision to close Romford Market on Sundays.

The decision comes as the council faces a £31million budget gap. Closing the market on Sundays is expected to save Havering more than £100,000 a year.

A council spokesperson confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service that Easter Sunday (March 31) had been the final day of operation.

Though the market will continue being held on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the stallholders who make their living there say they will take a huge hit.

Paul Sharpe, who runs a jewellery stall, has been a trader for more than four decades.

He said the partial closure was “heartbreaking,” adding: “It’s not just about us. It caters for low-budget families who can’t afford the shops.

“Some people only come on a Sunday, and now they can’t.

But news of the closure has taken a personal toll on some of the stallholders.

Sukh Singh, who sells mobile phone accessories and various gadgets, said: “It’s stressing us out. This is our livelihood.

“I can’t sleep because of it. I can’t believe they can just shut it down like that.”

The council spokesperson said that the viability of the Sunday market had “diminished” but the council remained committed to preserving the market.

She said: “We are committed to preserving our historic market, but cannot ignore the fact that we have to find a number of savings to help close a £31.2m budget gap.”

“The viability of the Sunday market has diminished since it was introduced in 2020 and closing it only on the Sunday is likely to save the council in excess of £100,000 per year.”

Like fellow trader David Long, Paul says the market could have been kept alive if the stallholders were given a chance to run it.

He said: “We have more than 100 years’ experience between us.

“It could not fail.

“But they won’t listen to us.”

He added: “It’s not right. When this goes, what’s next?”

David, a former greengrocer who now runs the street-food stall Wokabout, said: “They just aren’t listening. There are 30 traders here and they want to work.

“We even said we’d happily pay higher rates, but they didn’t listen.

“If you lose this market, you have lost this town.”

Romford market was first held in 1247, during the reign of King Henry III.

It boasts a wide variety of stalls, ranging from fashion and homeware to toys, technology, and butchers.

Now in its 777th year, the market has been home to some traders, such as greengrocer Lisa Vinton, for several generations.

She said she felt there had been “no loyalty” shown to the stallholders but acknowledged that some officials, like the market managers, “had no choice” in the decision.

One shopper told the LDRS it was a “shame” to see it reducing its opening days. Others were less concerned.

A resident who did not want to be named said: “It’s the way of the world. This is happening everywhere.

“I go to the shops more anyway. I don’t think there’s much at the market for me.”

Havering Council plans to publish a ‘master plan’ that would outline improvements to the town centre later this year.

During a debate in November 2023, the council’s leadership rejected a Conservative motion to “establish a cross-party working group” that would develop a scheme to “protect and enhance” the market.

Conservative councillor David Taylor had argued the market could be improved “with the right people around the table” – a sentiment echoed today by the traders.

But council leader Ray Morgon said that while Havering could no longer subsidise the market, it was “actively working” on the master plan.

After the council confirmed the Sunday market had been scrapped, Cllr Taylor called the decision “short-sighted” and “disappointing”.

Conservative group leader Keith Prince said it was “very sad” to witness the “demise” of the historic market.

He added that shopping trends were “habitual,” and if people are forced to visit markets elsewhere, their custom could be lost forever.

Details of the council’s vision for the town centre were released during an exhibition in 2019.

They included various suggestions, creating a “rejuvenated market”, a “refined retail offer”, more office space and a “new residential community”.

Other suggestions included a more varied “complementary activities and uses” including local produce.

A map of the centre suggested that while the historic character of the marketplace and South Street would be “maintained” and remain focused on retail, other areas could see large-scale redevelopment into residential, employment and cultural spaces.

Pivoting towards residential development in Romford is in line with the Mayor of London’s designation of the town centre as an “opportunity area” on the Elizabeth Line, with the potential for 5,000 new homes and 500 new jobs by 2041.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter