Franco Belge Owner Asks Town Council – What Town Do You Want?

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

What kind of town would you like?  What type of markets would you like to see?  Please comment in the box below.


  1. Kellie says:

    I feel that after the town clerk made that statement, several councillors confirmed that money was in no way their priority and never had been over what residents need and want, myself included. Also, I just wanted to reiterate this was about the extra weekend markets and not the weekly Thursday market, which most seem happy with.

  2. K harman says:

    As an ex independent trader from henley, I would love to see quirky independents in such a beautiful town. People need reason to come to a small town. I originally came from Whitstable which is thriving..mostly independent shops. People came from miles. No more coffee shops please. Bring some culture and interest but to do this the business rates really are the crucial element. Kay ex little nellies sweetshop.

  3. Solange de Carvalho says:

    I entirely agree with the owner of Franco Belge the town council has a duty to consider and consult on what the future of Henley should look like. Having lived in the area around Henley for 45 years I can genuinely say that i believe it has lost so much of its previous charm. The shops are now mainly chains or charities and the independents are slowly but surely disappearing. I find myself avoiding Henley more often than not due to parking issues and how dull it has become. It is a shame.

    • Anne Dean says:

      I agree with you. Parking is a problem and has never been addressed. Rather than markets I would prefer the roads to go back to the way they are, ample parking provided and the council to encourage independent businesses to settle in the town. No more coffee shops either. Marlow is much nicer!

  4. Barry Carson says:

    I think what is happening in Henley is a travesty. Great if you want to get a hair cut or a coffee or a bargain in a charity shop but the town is looking severely drab and lacklustre. It’s in desperate need of some smart town planning to bring it back to life. I know Marlow is a slightly different profile but it always feels so alive and vibrant. Henley feels like it’s dying right now. I don’t believe more chains is the answer – but who else can afford the ridiculous rents being charged. It needs reform and sorting out before it’s too late.

    • Jo Haley says:

      A man after my own heart. I second you 100% on your view. Henley is dying and certainly another charity shop, nail bar, hairdressers or coffee shop is not the answer. It was reported in the papers that there would be no more coffee shops in town but then another 3 appeared. Whether this is pure gossip or not but today I heard loch fynn and feathers & black are going.and Da Luca has already gone. Market Place should be the hub of the town with vibrant independents and wine bars. Save our Henley before it’s too late.

  5. Martin Akehurst says:

    Ricky is not alone in these views. I heard many identical views when I was mayor and spent some time trying to get SODC to support increased parking – especially since they did a parking survey in August 2009 which said the parking was insufficient during weekdays (not even weekends which are impossible) and promptly shelved the report.

    Insult was added to injury when they trumpeted they would ‘make parking free after 3.00pm on Saturday’ when its rammed anyway and does nothing to increase footfall. It was announced as ‘SODC doing something constructive’.

    We need more parking – we needed more parking 35 years ago when I moved to Henley. We certainly needed it when Marks and Sparks refused to locate a major store here 25 years ago because ” … there was insufficient parking and hence footfall and their (sic.) attitude is not to fix it” I quote from the board meeting I attended there.

  6. Sarah says:

    I agree with Ricky and with many of the comments on this thread. So many people we know have commented on how Henley is becoming shabbier and emptier each year – it’s not just the endless charity shops, but those that are standing empty all around the main areas of town. Some haven’t been filled for years, and It really has an effect on the feel of the place. Mostly, it seems like the Town Council is putting easy money over the long term benefit to the town of imaginative planning and development, as well as pushing SODC to take action on parking issues. Henley should be attracting independent shops and businesses in the way other towns in the area seem to be doing. It’s a real shame that more is not being done here. As I started by saying – it’s not just a few people who feel this way, I hear these comments more and more often. Ps the bread at Franco Belge is amazing, please don’t close!

  7. Ana says:

    As much I would support Franco Belge, I think the town needs less iced buns and white bloomer loaves – if the refurb means real bread baked daily, with a good variety of breads, I’m all for it. What they currently offer isn’t particularly exciting. And I agree with the overall sentiment of way too many coffee and charity shops.

  8. Graham Cromack says:

    Take a leaf out of Vibrant Marlows book. Do they have more parking than Henley? not sure we certainly need more, I suppose Park & Ride is not a practical answer?

    • Katherine Butland says:

      I’m not sure the parking in Marlow is much better than for Henley, but they definitely have a more vibrant town, with an interesting mix of shops – and more independents I believe. Visitors are going to drift away from Henley if it continues in this way. Park & Ride sounds a good idea.


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