Chiswick street food market given licence to continue

Image above: FoodSt market; photograph Andrea Carnevali

Food St given permission to operate for six months

The street food market in Chiswick has been granted a licence to continue. Food St, which sells ready to eat food from an international mix of traders in Old Market Place in Chiswick High Rd, held three Sunday markets for a trial period in October, November and December. They have now been given permission to operate for six months, but with fewer stalls than they applied for. They are allowed a maximum of 44 stalls to be placed between Devonshire Road and Linden Gardens.

Chair of the Licensing Panel Amy Croft told The Chiswick Calendar:

“The panel was clearly mindful of the strength of feeling from both supporters and objectors of the application and of community cohesion in Chiswick more generally; on the balance of probabilities the panel felt that the stronger argument and strength of support was with the Applicant.

“The Applicant additionally showed a genuine intention to support local businesses, including any objectors to the proposal, and we felt that the additional conditions imposed would go some way to finding a compromise.”

Image above: FoodSt market; photograph Andrea Carnevali

A finely balanced decision

It was touch and go whether the licence would be given. Although there was overwhelming support from the public for the street food market, which was very popular, there was a small group of opponents, led by Cllr Joanna Biddolph, who argued the market would cause problems with litter and noise, and there could also be damage to the statue of the artist William Hogarth caused by smoke and fat droplets in the air from cooking.

They also argued the market would provide unfair competition to Chiswick’s existing food businesses. The four residents speaking out at the meeting of Hounslow Council’s Licensing Panel on Wednesday 17 January asked not to be named. One was the owner of a restaurant in the High Rd, who told the meeting the Sunday food market was hurting her business:

“We can’t compete with someone paying £40 / £50 for a stall. We continually innovate, we work seven days a week, mostly 12 – 14 hour days … The markets do bring people in, but the high road isn’t seeing the spend.”

Image above: Antiques & Vintage market

Of all the markets which have been introduced, she said it was the antiques and vintage market which brought her most trade.

“The antiques market is brilliant for me. People come with disposable income. That’s bringing exactly the right kind of customers.”

But she said, a food market was direct competition:

“In April the new business rates are going to hit us and I know two or three restaurants who are contemplating closing. Chiswick High Rd is not in a healthy place. I am not the only restaurant objecting. People are just not confident to speak out.”

Richard told the Licensing Panel he had the support of six local food businesses, including the George IV in the middle of the market space, for which Sunday lunches are also an important source of revenue.

There were a number of businesses from Chiswick who had had stalls at the markets: Le Vacherin, The Whistling Oyster, Mari deli & diner, Heisenberg café and Ma Ma Boutique Bakery. They were also supported by the Japanese Knife Company and Borough Kitchen, he said.

He invited the objector at the meeting to take a stall. Although he offered her a gazebo, she said it wouldn’t be worth the outlay required for equipment to serve food outside unless he could guarantee her a pitch at every market, which he was not prepared to do.

Image above: FoodSt market; photograph Rosie Leyden

No guarantees for local traders, but “I want to help”, says Richard Johnson

Cllr Vikram Grewal asked if Mr Johnson would be prepared to guarantee spaces for traders from other parts of Hounslow, which Richard said he could not guarantee either:

“I would like to encourage traders from Chiswick, Ealing and Hounslow but my priority is to get the best. Hyperlocal businesses are given a 50% discount on the pitch fees and we try and rotate them. We found out very quickly that there are some favourites our customers really like, and you drop those at your peril.

“With only 14 stalls [during the initial three month trial the spaces were restricted], I haven’t been able to make anything like a profit, so I couldn’t guarantee 50% of pitches would go to traders from the whole of Hounslow.”

The owners of Ma Ma Boutique Bakery, at 30 Chiswick High Rd, were at the Licensing Panel meeting to support the application. Marjena and Nigel, who make gluten free bread and cakes, have had a stall a couple of times at FoodSt and had never taken part in a food market before. Marjena said:

“I love being at the market. There is so much positive energy. I enjoy it as a personal experience and as a business experience.

“We are a fledgling business. Our problem is that people don’t know we’re here, and we have had such a positive response from the market. We need to have the shop open as well now on Sundays because so many people are now aware of us because of Richard.”

Mr Johnson said Blue Collar, the company he works with to run the market, had helped them out with equipment, to make it easier for them to take part. He had also brought social media influencers to the market, who had spread the word about Ma Ma Boutique Bakery’s bread and cakes.

Image above: FoodSt market; photograph Andrea Carnevali

What to do about litter

The subject of litter was brought up by another resident there to oppose the market, who represented the residents’ association covering the area directly across the road from the market. She was concerned about litter being dropped by people who had bought food at the market, eating it as they walked down the side streets towards the Common on their way to Turnham Green tube station. She said:

“This market is different to the other markets. If you buy flowers, you take them home with you, but if people buy street food, they eat it there and drop the litter. There is a litter issue generally … it’s not an ‘if’, it’s a definite, and we need a sensible way to handle this.”

On the question of litter, Mr Johnson said they had cleared up assiduously after each market.

“We only had one negative comment, and that was about a full bin, which was full when the market started. The George IV told us the site was cleaner when we left than it was when we arrived.

“We were really careful. We have video evidence there was no litter left after the market.”

He said they had checked the surrounding streets for litter and he would be prepared to make sure the roads immediately opposite were included when they clear up after the markets.

The panel heard that the Council’s Traffic and Transport departments had raised no objections to the market trading on public land after its three month trial.

Image above: Chiswick Flower Market; photograph Frank Noon

Markets bringing people to the high road

Mr Johnson told the meeting he had commissioned a market research survey of people coming to the street food market, which found 90% said they were likely to visit local shops as well. He is himself a local resident and he found the market was a focal point to catch up with friends, a chance to meet and chat with neighbours and friends. Local celebrities Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Jeremy Vine and Krishnan Guru Murthy are among those who have visited.

Cllr Biddolph said if people were eating at the market that meant they wouldn’t be eating elsewhere.

“This sector is really struggling. If someone who comes also buys a book, that’s terrific, but they’re not buying food.”

Mr Johnson replied:

“You’re making all sorts of assumptions. Not everyone who comes here would otherwise have eaten in a restaurant.”

One of the residents at the meeting to support the proposal said she had a 20 year old daughter who now went to Chiswick High Rd when the market was on, instead of going to Westfield shopping centre to hang out with her friends, and that she was typical of young people who would not otherwise go to the High Rd on a Sunday.

Another said her 12 year old daughter was now asking to go to the High Rd on her own, to go to the food market. A third local resident told the restaurateur who had objected:

“I came with my family, including my 91 year old mother. There is no seating, so I came to you. I love your food and I eat there a lot, but mostly with my husband during the week. When we came as a family we then went to Waterstones and bought books.”

In the written submissions to the panel there were 19 against and 91 in favour. At the licensing panel itself there were four residents there to oppose the market, with Cllr Biddolph, and five to support it, with the applicant Richard Johnson.

Image above: FoodSt market; photograph Andrea Carnevali

A smaller market than the organisers wanted

Richard Johnson resubmitted the original application he made last May, for 62 pitches spreading from 209 (the empty police station building) down to 123 Chiswick High Rd, beyond the Metro Bank, on the basis that the Antiques and Vintage market has a licence to extend that far and the flower market has on occasion added in a vegan market which extends along the south side of the high road.

There was some confusion as to whether that meant there would be 62 traders. He explained it wouldn’t, as many would serve food from their trucks, which would take up two spaces. The markets during the trial period had been restricted to 20 pitches, with 14 traders at the police station end of the car park, and customers had complained of overcrowding, as the market had proved so popular.

“The only complaints I’ve seen are that it has been too crowded”, said Mr Johnson. “We can make it a much nicer experience. That’s why I watch to stretch out and have seating and a small performance area.”

The panel – three Hounslow Councillors, Vikram Grewal, Rashid Bhatti and Amy Croft, who represents Riverside ward in Chiswick – decided the number of pitches should be extended, but only as far as Devonshire Rd.

Richard Johnson offered to put vendors of cold food only near the statue of William Hogarth, but a representative of the Hogarth Trust argued it was not just grease and smoke in the air which concerned her, but the statue being crowded.

“It should be respected” she said. “It’s not just about the conservation of the bronze, but how it’s respected. We need to give it space and respect, so people recognise its importance.”

The FoodSt market is the fourth to be added to the schedule of regular open-air markets. Chiswick Flower Market operates on the first Sunday of the month; the Antiques and Vintage market is held on the second Sunday; Chiswick Cheese Market takes place on the third Sunday of the month and FoodSt will now take place on the fourth Sunday.

The Licensing Panel was made up of three Hounslow Councillors, Vikram Grewal,  Rashid Bhatti and Chair Amy Croft, who represents Riverside ward in Chiswick.