12,000 say no to ASDA

Friends of Queen's Market is a campaign in Newham to stop the "redevelopment" of a highly valued local street market into an ASDA.

Submitted by libcom on March 5, 2006

The campaign has just gone on-line with a new website (still under construction).

libcom.org is pleased to republish this short history of the campaign:

Events up to September 2004

Queens Market is a lively street market in East London, next to Upton Park on the District Line, consisting of some sixty small shops and eighty stalls, established by act of Parliament a hundred years ago, serving the local low-income and multi-ethnic communities with a very wide range of low price goods. Our organisation, the Friends of Queens Market, wants to keep it in existence and keep it in public ownership, in the ownership of the London Borough of Newham.

After spending nearly 1 Million pounds on regeneration in 1998, the land was put up for sale without public consultation in 2003.

In the summer of 2003 an adhoc group of local shoppers, traders and activists came together to form the Friends of Queens Market. The only councillor who supported them was Newham’s only opposition councillor Alan Craig of the Christian Peoples Alliance.

The Friends held public meetings in a hall and at the market itself to alert people to the threat to the market. In December 2003 they collected over 2000 signatures on a petition to save the market. The Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, promised ‘consultation’ on the future of the market. With no sign of this taking place but with a lot of disquieting rumours circulating the Friends of Queens Market organised their own survey, designing the questionnaire and interviewing 138 market shoppers and traders. The results were overwhelming support for keeping the market stalls and shops and keeping them in Council ownership with an interesting range of views on possible improvements and how to finance them.

The Friends published the report in July 2004 and took copies along to the local council-run Community Forum. There they demanded a meeting on the future of Queens Market. The Deputy Mayor told them that nothing had been decided ; the very next day the local paper broke the news that the supermarket chain Asda was negotiating with the council to build on the market site. The news came from an Asda spokesman.

Things were hotting up; the Community Forum had been forced to promise a meeting in mid-September on the future of the market and Councillor Alan Craig had put down a motion supporting the market, to be debated at the first full council meeting in September; he also arranged for a deputation of market traders and shoppers to address that meeting.

Before either meeting could take place the Mayor formerly appointed St Modwens as the ‘preferred development partner’ for the market on 10 September 2004. He rushed this through as an emergency decision, using General Exception Notice procedure. The reasons given for the rush were ‘public interest’ and ‘market sensitivities’. Was he afraid that if he left the decision any longer the campaign would grow and the market might become too hot for any developer to handle?

Both the public meeting and the Council meeting were well attended by market supporters. An eye-witness account of the council meeting follows just to give the flavour of the people and issues involved

That council meeting

First there was a small demonstration outside the Town Hall with banners proclaiming ‘we love Queens Market’, ‘affordable fresh food at Queens Market’, ‘this Council has neglected our market; now they want to kill it’ and of course ‘hands off Queens Market’.

A deputation of shoppers and traders were allowed to address the Council. By this time the number of market traders and shoppers had risen to around a hundred, old and young, black and white, Jewish and Muslim etc. The public gallery was jammed tight and those who could not get in sat in an adjacent conference room and listened to the proceedings through a tannoy..

The first speaker was Gwyn Gwyntopher, pensioner, lifetime market shopper and peace campaigner. She stressed the importance of the market as a lifeline to the many poor people living in the borough. As for the frequent Council argument that the market should go because it was shabby and dirty, she pointed out that the Council themselves had a public duty to upgrade public facilities like the toilets; there was no need to call in a developer.

Nick Berry of the Textile Centre said that street markets and barrow boys were part of the London tradition, part of our history. People came from all over London to our unique and multicultural market, with its wide range of goods . Would they come to an Asda superstore flanked by a few token stalls in a Green Street filled with the same stores as every other High Street? He doubted it. He spoke movingly of the changing nature of the market and the new communities in the borough which he had seen it serve; first the Asians, then people from Africa and now the Eastern Europeans. He pointed out that for the new arrivals, and for disadvantaged people in general, having a stall in the market was a realisable first step in setting up a business.

Council procedure allows for councillors to have ten minutes to question the deputation; they were denied any opportunity to do this when the Council hatchet woman, Deputy Mayor June Leitch, launched into a ten minute tirade.. The market is dirty, she had her bag snatched there, it has to be regenerated because Newham council leads the country with its regeneration programme, private developers will be involved because ‘that’s the way things are done.’

The debate on the future of the market continued to rage, particularly in the pages of the local paper, with the Council spin machine going into overdrive.

Take the million pound regeneration money which the Council spent on the market in 1998. Rumours abound of over-invoicing and diversions of earmarked money; huge amounts spent on lighting and yet today the market can look dark. This proves, said the Council, that extra investment in the existing market is a waste of time. Clever eh? Like a cowboy doing a building job and then arguing that the building should be pulled down anyway and hey I know a great demolition firm!

The market is dirty, the spinmeisters cried with the local paper’s editor referring to it as ‘the black hole of Calcutta.’ But the market has become dirty as a result of Council policy, namely the outsourcing of part of the cleaning to Bywaters and the general slashing of cleaning services

Bywaters is very much a local firm; its shareholders and officials are all members of one family said to have strong local connections. Since they appeared two years ago cleaning standards have plummeted,

* A council-owned machine that used to be used twice a week to scrub the pavement at the front of the market has been mothballed.

* In contrast a compactor leased from Bywaters is in daily use – slow and inefficient it cannot cope with all the market rubbish which then piles up, necessitating the hire of extra waste disposal lorries – from Bywaters, of course!

* Two years ago the market was cleaned weekly, hosed down by four men using power hoses. Now it is merely part-cleaned fortnightly.

* Two years ago cleaners came along on Saturday evenings to clear up after the market’s busiest day. The Council axed their bonuses. Sometimes they employ no cleaners at all on Saturday night claiming that the work will be done by ‘the night staff’ whose brief is to patrol all the roads in Newham.

As all councils are under a legal obligation to tender out/arrange their cleaning and other services in a way that provides ‘best value’ you would expect Newham Council to ask ‘ How can Bywaters be providing best value if the market is left dirty?’

Not Newham Council! They slash the cleaning and then claim that the market is dirty and must therefore be sold, sorry redeveloped.

While the debate raged the Friends continued to campaign, collecting signatures for petitions and provide a spectacular photo-op with ladies holding two bowls of fruit; what £5 will buy at Asda and what £5 will buy at the market.

Meanwhile there was news from another St Modwen development.

St Modwens and the Edmonton Green Market

An hour’s drive from Newham St Modwen is building flats ,shops, leisure centre etc ,on a site which also houses a market. They bought the site outright from Enfield Council in 1999. The market stallholders there were promised that their rents would be frozen for five years. The traders’rents have indeed been frozen but they say that their service charges have sky-rocketed, They are also paying extra for lighting. St Modwens have not hesitated to call in the bailiffs to traders in arrears. As a result the number of traders in basic, cheap goods have fallen significantly. Of the fourteen original fruit and vegetable stalls four remain.

Although St Modwen bought the site in1999 they have just begun building in 2004 and will continue for another three or four years; the front of the traders’ site is boarded up; this and the ongoing building work has affected trade so badly that the local council is considering giving the stallholders relief from their business rates on grounds of hardship.

Let battle commence…..the line-up

On one side St Modwens the developers who stand to make some 200 x
£300000 on sale of new apartments alone, St Modwens whose pre-tax profits
for the first six months of this year came to £22.1 million.

Aiding and abetting them, Newham Council who stand to gain from a hefty capital receipt if the market is sold. A Council committed to bringing in higher-income residents into Newham and who apparently resent the low cost food whereby the market sustains many of the poor of Newham: how else to explain their extraordinary glossy-leaflet statement that the market ‘suffers from a proliferation of certain uses such as meat sales and fruit and vegetables’.?

Ranged against the corporate and local authority Goliath is the fairly diminutive David – the Friends of Queens Market. A mixed bag, shoppers outraged at the prospect of losing their market, those stallholders and shopkeepers who are prepared to oppose the St Modwens takeover, also all the opposition parties :Greens, Tories, Lib-Dems Christian Peoples’Alliance and Respect, plus nearby residents who do not want increased congestion or to have their neighbourhood further overshadowed by multi-storey buildings

The story continues…
Mid-November 2004 St Modwens put their plans on display at a mobile unit showing the indoor market, the apartments, the Asda superstore and promising ‘bars’ – in a bid perhaps to bring in the late night binge drinkers who to date have been blessedly absent from this area with its high Muslim population. The proposed measurements were shown to the Friends. At present the market’s stalls and kiosks occupy 5624 square metres. The small shops round the market take up 4770 square metres. So that’s over 10,000 metre of good value low price shopping. St Modwen’s best plan allowed 3830 square metres for all the stalls and small shops. The market was to moved and cut by more than half! ( Meanwhile Asda is planned to take up 6132 square metres) The display was reticent about the number of planned apartments (140 in fact ‘predominantly private’) and the plan to bring in high street stores was only hinted at.

December 2004 the Council began a Mori poll as well.

Stephen Timms the local Labour MP turned up when the Friends were conducting an open-air public meeting at the market in December and offered to chair a meeting between traders and the local Council

However his idea was a ‘compromise’ whereby the developers got the market but MP’s Newham Council attached ‘conditions’ to its planning permission. Nobody bought this. ‘Big deal!’ commented traders wife Jan ‘and when St Modwens break the conditions what will the Council say? They’ll tell us, our legal department says there’s nothing we can do!’

March 2005 the Mayor announced the Mori poll result : a 51% majority in favour of ‘redevelopment’.
Critics of the poll say that interviewees were neither told of the plan to sell the market nor asked if they approved; they were not told that the market area was to be slashed. Whilst 503 ‘nearby residents’ were interviewed, only 214 market shoppers were polled. Statements given to people being polled were:

It is intended to provide more housing

The market should become cleaner and more attractive

The intention is to make the market and the surrounding area safer

It is likely that there will be new shops and a supermarket in Queens Market area, providing new jobs

It is intended to provide more car parking facilities

There will be some changes to the positioning of market stalls .

While the development is happening there will be some disruption from building work

The number of shops in the market may decrease

There may be a change to the type of goods sold

The cultural mix/atmosphere of the market may change

Misleading statements

The 'changes to the positioning' actually meant moving the whole market 50 metres to the south, partially under a tower block not as most of us would understand it, moving a few stalls around. This is like 'repositioning' your patio furniture four doors away in someone else's garden!

The ' may decrease' in the number of shops is alarmingly inaccurate. At the time there were plans to provide only 18 shops out of the existing 70 or so shops and kiosks and some of these were to be chain stores which can be found in any high street. The number has since been increased to 30.

Nothing was said about increased traffic in the area, 24 hour trading and refrigerated lorries, extractor fans and arc lights all night either!
The Friends of Queens Market believe the statements should have read as follows:

*The market will be sold to a private developer

*The market will be much smaller.

*The market stalls will be removed and re-sited under and around the tower block.

*While the development is happening there will be considerable disruption from building work, perhaps for some years

*The number of shops will decrease from 70 to less than 20 and many of these will be chain shops.

*Consequently there will be job losses.

*The goods sold will change and there will be less choice

Does anyone believe that the same answers would have been forthcoming if these had been the statements given by the pollsters?

Interestingly, the council have just issued the full data for the poll along with some bullet points about the findings.

The first statement in the MORI Summary of Findings reads: Respondents from all four audiences (residents, shoppers, traders, shop owners) are satisfied with the area as a place to live shop or trade. Residents living in the Queen's Market area are more satisfied with the area than residents across Newham generally.
Why are we not surprised that they failed to report this positive finding and instead concentrated on the usual problems such as litter, for which they are actually responsible!!

April 11 Councillor Craig moved two save-the-market motions at a Council meeting. A (leaked) memo to all the Labour councillors from the Party Chief Whip forbade them to speak on the motions: only the Mayor must speak! The motions were defeated, surprise,surprise.

In the pre-election days of late April Lynn Brown, Labour candidate MP for West Ham, the constituency in which the market is situated, visited the market and saw a delegation from the Friends of Queens Market. She too talked of brokering a compromise. She promised to get back to the campaign. She didn’t. But, credit where it’s due, workmen rushed in a few days to repair a leak in the roof which had been pointed out to her…

23 June: a Council cabinet meeting: All sixty small shops and kiosks are intended to be bulldozed; the Council is voted powers to compulsory purchase them, subject to a Development Agreement being concluded with St Modwens. Public kicked out while likely terms of agreement discussed (St Modwens will probably get 150 year lease).

August 2005 Local girl Tehmina Patel gets an Upper Second honours degree in Sociology and Media Studies and a First for her thesis on – Queens Market! Top university statisticians approved her survey which found that TWO THIRDS of shoppers believe that the community will lose out if the new proposals for the market are approved.

14 September. Friends of Queens Market handed in a petition to Ken Livingstone at City Hall;12000 signatories against the handover of the market. A rather equivocal response from Ken in Mayor’s question time pledging himself to retaining the market; not saying whether he supported the St Modwens’ model…..

20 September The local Community Forum held a widely advertised public meeting where the Deputy Mayor, June Leitch, was to answer questions about the market. Over fifty people turned up. June Leitch stunned everyone by announcing that she would not discuss the market: it would be discussed at a meeting in November.

October 2005. Newham’s Mayor Sir Robin Wales invites people to write to him about the borough on a specially-produced postcard bearing his picture. Two hundred people write in, all but one asking him to save the market, with comments such as ‘ I am 82 years old I lived 42 Queens Road until we were blitzed out by Hitler 1941 we loved the market then and still use it now’ or ‘I do not like you to sell market: I want market as it is for we poor people’

15 November 2005 Over hundred people turned up at the West Ham stadium building to hear a Council official and a representative of the developers talk about the plans. Speaker after speaker from the floor denounced the plans; a straw poll was called from the floor: none of the public and traders there favour the developers’ ideas.

29 November. Friends of Queens Market held a public meeting at which they launched a discussion document showing how all the required improvements to the market could be made without handing it over to developers

Meanwhile an East London heavyweight held its own investigation. TELCO, the East London Community Organisation, whose membership includes local trades unions, churches and mosques, held a month long consultation in Newham. Over five thousand people were consulted: and the consensus is against the plans. Silvana Dallanegra the co-chair says that “the views we have heard utterly mis-trust the proposed plan, and we have to share the views of our communities.”

10 December. The Mayor helds another consultation of local residents. The location was inconvenient – the West Ham football ground at the extreme south of Green Street: the timing is worse – two weeks from what is a major holiday period for all Newham residents regardless of religion. No crèche provided for busy Mums either, and no leeway as to when people can visit – they are given appointments between 10 and 2pm. Nine thousand invites were sent out, many delivered only the day before. Friends of Queens Market kept watch outside: their most generous estimate was that an absolute maximum of thirty people attended the consultation.

13 December. A full Council meeting. One of Newhams four opposition councillors (yes, their number has grown!) moved a motion supporting the Friends of Queens Market alternative plan. One Labour councillor defies the whip and votes in support. Two Labour councillors abstain after publicly stating their reservations. Such defiance is unprecedented! The fight goes on.

22 December The Council held a cabinet meeting. They delegated to the Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director of Resources authority to
complete the Development Agreement with St. Modwen’. Is this a publicity stunt, designed to convince the opposition that their cause is irrevocably lost, or has someone been negotiating without due authority? It also transpires that they wanted to move the Green Street library and service centre on to the site but the freeholder of the library has blocked this.
22 December The Council held a cabinet meeting. They delegated to the Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director of Resources authority to complete the Development Agreement with St. Modwen’. Is this a publicity stunt, designed to convince the opposition that their cause is irrevocably lost, or has someone been negotiating without due authority? They still intend to pull to bulldoze the existing shops and –it has since transpired - five units of social housing, but as well as an Asda on the site along with shopping units: they want a library and service centre (this last was suggested only in December 2006 in a vain attempt to popularise a clearly unpopular scheme). There will also be two hundred flats: Newham residents will indeed get the first option to buy but the flats are to be sold at market value if you please – no nonsense about social/affordable housing here! . They will be offered first to Newham residents, that is the Newham residents with the money to buy a luxury home or indeed an investment home in these pre-olympic days. Guess who –libel laws preclude further speculation..

The fight goes on.

There is another Asda store in Newham; there are various other superstores ; there is only one Queens Market. We say ‘Defend our multi-cultural and historical market!’


In Newham, 38% of young people are overweight or obese and levels of heart disease are among the highest in Britain. Sir Robin's well publicised support of health initiatives in the borough does not extend to preserving and promoting the largest, cheapest source of healthy food in East London. Each trader shifts around 10 tonnes of fresh produce a day, which means they can undercut the supermarkets' prices by as much as half .

What follows is a comparison between Queens Market and Asda on 17-18 Jan 2005; the first three items have to be prepared/cooked: the last three can be munched without cooking. Items are of comparable quality. Eggs are omitted so are non-food items. Friends of Queens Market are happy to do price comparisons as requested

No plantain, yam. dill, , guava, paw-paw available at Asda. All available at market and in common use

Asda Market

1 kg okra £6.80 £3.28

1 kg red sweet potato £3.12 £1.08

1 kg ginger £2.38 £1.30p

1 kg red seedless grapes £2.97 £1.30

1 kg red apples £1.48 55p

1 kg bananas 85p 55p

Please also remember the market sells a large range of fabrics and sewing items at low cost. This enables women from the minority communities, many of whom are skilled at sewing, to clothe their families and furnish their homes to a good standard.

Other aspects of the story

2. ethnic/social cleansing

It is well known that the market is popular with Newham’s many minority communities, not least as a source of wide-ranging and cheap '‘ethnic'’goods.

But the initial drawing of the redeveloped market area showed it peopled by white and youthful figures instead of Newham's very mixed communities. Twice published in the local press the council didn't bat an eye-lid until Friends of Queens Market pointed out that it was offensive. Nine days later a ‘cosmopolitan’ version appeared on their Newsheet, Nov 2004.

Slip of the sketching pen? Next came the editor of the Newham Recorder supporting the market sale, describing the market as ‘the black hole of Calcutta’ and of course invoking the spectre of ‘misguided political correctness’ when criticised.

When petitions for the market were sent to all the councillors, one petition sheet was returned with a handwritten unsigned note that none of the signatories’ addresses were in the ward (s/he was correct there – the Friends and the public had got seriously confused about ward boundaries). The note went on to comment that only two of the signatories were white (a factually dubious statement) and the petition was therefore unrepresentative. A letter to the secretary of the relevant Labour Party asking for authorship and explanation has to date gone unanswered.

Finally, the Mori pollsters’ scripted brief on the proposed changes contained the phrase ‘the cultural mix / atmosphere of the market may change.’

Whether or not there was a ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ implicit in that last statement, the fact remains that front bench councillors and council officials never tire of mentioning the market butcher whose premises were closed by Environmental Health. Nobody condones lack of hygiene or safety ,of course, but an ‘ethnic cleansing’ agenda for the market would explain why the erring butcher –now closed down -got the disproportionate level of attention usually reserved for asylum seekers or hooded youth, especially since none of Newham’s outbreaks of food poisoning have ever been traced to the market.

Racism? Or is there a more complex dynamic at work? The Mayor has made no secret of his wish to have higher house prices, more middle-class residents, to ‘gentrify’ the borough as the local Green party said. Council xenophobia somehow spares the Asian goldsmiths in Green Street by the market, likewise the Green Street saree shop where Cherie Blair bought her saree for one of her jaunts abroad, and Chawalla Restaurant of tourist guide fame.

So when the Mayor spoke of the undesirability of a ‘continued flow of other people from other boroughs requiring sustained support’ drawn in through ‘informal local networks’ (Vision for Newham 1997) was he gunning for black people or just poor black people and by extension poor whites as well? No wonder he wants the market to go. It sustains the underclass, the second class, the working class.