Ely Market prospers but over in Cambridge it’s an altogether different tale

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to Ely Market Place. Picture: STEVE P

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to Ely Market Place. Picture: STEVE PARSONS - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

As Ely celebrates its successful markets, in Cambridge a “tourist tax” has been suggested to help rejuvenate Cambridge’s historic market square as councillors, traders, and residents discuss ways to make the area better.

East Cambs councillor Anna Bailey spoke of the success of Ely markets following programmes on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire talking about the future of all local markets.

“The small but mighty markets team and our fantastic traders are bucking the trend with a thriving markets and events programme,” she tweeted.

However there are problems in Cambridge, which has had a market on Market Hill since at least the middle ages. Stalls sell a variety of goods, from fruit and vegetables, to art and craft items, music, and books.

Friends of Cambridge Market group met to discuss problems with the market, and ideas for improving it, including improving cleanliness, opening at night, and putting on more events. Many were keen not to lose the character of the square, and warned against making any changes that would harm the market.

The meeting was attended by many market traders, with many expressing their disgust with the lack of cleaning in the square.

One said they had to clean out their stall every day with Dettol because the square is “used as a public toilet” at night.

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Another said the square was a “doss house and a lavatory” at night, and that it isn’t nice for traders to have to clean up.

Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, said there were discussions going on about how to improve the cleanliness of the square, as well as disabled access and lighting. He said, however, there needed to be some hard decisions and that removing the cobbles from the square might be necessary to facilitate cleaning.

Cllr Herbert said: “Where I understand it is at is the discussion is around making it easier to clean and getting better disabled access. Part of the reason it is grimy is it is not easy to clean. If people want to keep the cobbles that is part of the issue.”

Cllr Herbert also said making the road around the square accessible only for traders, or only at certain times of day, would free up a lot of space around the edge of the square which could be used to either expand the market or stage events.

Cllr Herbert said the council was also looking at upgrading the electricity and lighting in the square. He said there was also a decision to be made about how the square is used in the evening and whether more “night markets” or food and drink stalls might help make the space friendlier at night.

Cllr Herbert acknowledged, however, that the city is going through “tough times” and that there is “not a lot of money floating around” to work with.

Wendy Blythe, a Cambridge resident and chairwoman of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations (FeCRA), said money from a “tourist tax” in the city could be used to help rejuvenate the square.

“Why shouldn’t some of the money from tourists go to helping the market?” she asked. “It may be somewhere we want people to go as a destination itself.”

Mrs Blythe said the market was important to Cambridge and could be as vibrant as Borough Market in London if treated properly.