Saturday, July 12, 2008
Being a responsible landlord.
This building is the Market Hall in Newtown, Montgeryshire. It is owned by Powys County Council, and is let to 36 market traders, many of whom have been tenants of the Council for a very long time. It is also an important part of what makes Newtown distinctive, something I believe is particularly important in a town that has undergone great change as a consequence of its being a statutory 'New Town'. Newtown's population was increased from about 5,500 to 11,000 by Government investment in housing and industrial premises. I played a big part in that process in the 80s and 90s.
At present, the Council is faced with huge maintenance costs. I'm told that about £200,000 is needed immediately, with another half a million to put the place in good order. Unsurprisingly, the Council have decided to sell it, rather than put such an imposition on the already hard pressed Council Tax payers. The issue is not so much whether the Council sell it, but whether any requirement to protect the interests of the Market Traders is included as a condition of sale. I believe that there should be.
The Council can and may just sell the building, allowing the buyer to kick out the tenants, and convert the building into standard retail space. It cannot be knocked down because some parts of it are listed. A widespread rumour around my Broad St coffee pitstop is that Weatherspoon's want it - but there's no confirmation of this. If we were talking about a private landlord in the 19th century, we wouldn't expect sympathy for the tenants. But Newtown is the birthplace of Robert Owen, perhaps the world's most renowned thinker and practitioner in the field of fairness within industry. How ironic it will be if the Council just say, "Lets take the best offer, and stuff the traders". I really do hope that they don't.