By Shane Scanlan
Heritage Victoria (HV) has granted permission for the installation of a further 12 free-standing shipping containers to be used as stalls at the Queen Victoria Market (QVM).
To the delight of management and the disappointment of market activists, HV granted the five-year permit on December 21.
HV says it granted the permit because: “As it was assessed that the proposed works were temporary and reversible, would have limited impact on the heritage impact of the place, and could be mitigated through appropriate permit conditions.”
Market CEO Stan Liacos told CBD News he was “heartened and encouraged” by the granting of the permit.
In March last year HV scuttled plans for underground facilities at the market when it refused permission for the works.
Mr Liacos said: “Their [HV] support is welcomed in that it acknowledges a shared aspiration for the market to preserve its physical heritage but to commercially evolve to better meet the demands of today’s fast-changing fickle customers and enable the market to be reenergised and prosper once again.”
“String Bean Alley once complete mid this year will emerge as another groovy enticing laneway for central Melbourne that will be able to trade more days of the week and for slightly longer hours than it currently can given its current half-done state.”
Market activists are crying foul, and claim the introduction of fixed stalls in a deliberate strategy to undermine the viability of “box hire” businesses, which are central to the daily setting-up, removal and storage of goods.
They claim that container tenancies are being “subsidised” by paying lower rents than open-area traders – a claim which Mr Liacos denies. He says container tenants pay twice the rental of others on a per square metre basis.
Vic Market Traders Action Group spokesperson Phil Cleary said the new containers would further change the fundamental character and nature of the market. He blamed management for failing to attract new traditional tenants.
“It is a smokescreen that camouflages management’s lack of creativity on promoting and marketing the QVM,” he said.
“It also obscures the fact that we have a HR management style at the market which is moribund. The traders have not been given a proper voice.”
But Mr Liacos insists the fixed stalls are designed to boost the market’s bottom line – and it appears there maybe more to come.
He said there was considerably more demand for “fixed” lockable and/or semi-fixed tenancies at the market, compared with the traditional open-shed stalls that needed to be set up and removed each day.
“For instance, we have only one vacancy at the very moment in areas where we have our fixed tenancies and a recent EoI process for that space alone attracted nine submissions, half of which were actually from new traders,” Mr Liacos said.
“The reality, on the other hand, is that we have reducing demand from traders for much of our more traditional open shed ‘unfixed’ stalls where we have an occupancy of about 60 per cent, and reducing.”
However, Mr Liacos said he envisaged only about 20 per cent of the space under the sheds would be required to “more fixed fittings and utility service points to attract new trading formats, new and younger traders, attract local customers back to the market and, in turn, help restore the appeal and commercial prosperity of this part of the market.”
“Being in fixed shops or stalls allows traders to invest in quality fit-outs and fixtures and also reduce their repetitive daily labour grind which in turn reduces the cost of doing business and increase profitability,” he said.
Save Queen Victoria Market spokesperson Mary-Lou Howie told CBD News the new shipping containers would block ventilation and would make hot summer days even worse under the sheds.
“I think it’s being done to get rid of the box-hire boys,” she said.
Ms Howie accused management of a deliberate campaign to reduce the number of open-air market traders.
She said, in the bigger picture, the 12 new containers were not that significant. But, she said, lack of proper process was her major concern, saying management appeared to lack a coherent plan for the future.