Ricky Martin who owns Franco Belge and the freehold building in Duke Street asked Councillors at the Town & Community Meeting – What kind of town do you want and what is their vision?
After trading in the town for 60 years and at the current site for over 40 years, Ricky is now considering whether it is worth investing between £120-160k to refit the shop and install new bakery equipment after he’s seen a steady downfall in business over the last few years or to close.
He went on to ask questions, “How much as a town council you can influence? Do you see the town looking to be like a Watlington village type place or back like years ago being a thriving market town? Do you want to encourage independents or are you more focused on chains? Are your Council Officers reflecting your town values and is accurate information reaching you. I certainly struggle to get information that I feel that is important for me to make decisions going forward.”
Ricky told the Councillors that the “markets are having a massive impact and directly affecting my business” and he felt that parking was the second reason for the decline in footfall. He said, “If the Town Council could put pressure on SODC to manage the car parks better (many people feed the meters to park all day) and look at creating spaces elsewhere, I think it would transform the town.”
Ricky concluded by saying, “Unless I feel that I’ve got the support, and I’m not looking for favours, it is not the right decision to invest that money. It will probably mean that we will close. I have permission to develop the flats above the shop. I need to make a decision about the shop below. If I go, you will probably get a Greggs or a little Subway and my unit will be probably become another charity shop. Charity shops are the only thing making money at the moment as they don’t have to pay rates. I’ve nothing against charity shops, they are good in the mix but we have too many in Duke Street. I’m the last man standing, the last volume independent, last baker in town and the decisions you make will decide whether I stay or not. Do you want a Franco Belge or Greggs? I would like to know that you’ve done your research and I just want to know that you’ve made informed decisions you’re coming from a place of knowledge.”
Councillor Sam Evans made a suggestion that a group be formed like the Chesham Renaissance Group which comprises of different representatives from the town who are qualified and understand economics who have been successful in creating a clear town vision.
The committee then went on to discuss the weekend themed markets which take place four times a year. The French Market in particular had a damaging affect on Franco Belge as there was stallholder with an oven, making fresh bread. Ricky commented, “I’m not anti markets, it is how they are being managed and I see it as unfair competition.”
Town Clerk, Janet Wheeler said, “The current weekend markets bring in income and Councillors are very keen to keep the income. We can only get that income if we have the type of markets that are prepared to pay the £2,000 we are asking. We are therefore restricted on the types of markets that we have because of this. Or the alternative is that we organise our own but that will need more Council Officers’ input and time with an associated additional cost but potentially over time it could be a good money spinner and we could use both Market Place and the inside the Town Hall. We need to make a decision quickly though as we have request for the French Market for September.”
The committee agreed to form a working group with interested parties from Henley to do a review of the markets and to create a proposal. Are you interested in being part of the working group. Contact Helen Barnett, Town Manager at H.Barnett@henleytowncouncil.gov.uk
What kind of town would you like? What type of markets would you like to see? Please comment in the box below.