THE losing bidder for Hereford Buttermarket wanted to run a “not for profit” community enterprise out of the site and had set up a company to do so.

Jo Hilditch, Chair of Herefordshire Food for Growth, says she’s disappointed the council has rejected the plan but is “confident” the Buttermarket can continue to be a market hall.

“The council was full of praise for our vision to restore the building as a market hall focusing on supporting local business and promoting the county’s food heritage.

“But sadly at the end of a very long process the council preferred a more commercial approach,” she said.

The Food for Growth Community Interest Company (CIC) was set up under the umbrella of the Bulmer Foundation after the council decided to dispose of the buttermarket as part of its savings plan.

Set up as such, CIC was in a position to find funding through charitable organisations including Heritage Lottery.

Made up of local business and food experts, CIC hoped to win the council’s support to run the Buttermarket as a not for profit community enterprise which would support existing traders and encourage a range of new businesses - especially those promoting food and drink.

“We had hoped to restore the building, which is in need of considerable work, to make it much more for fit for purpose and to act as an incubator for fledgling businesses,” said Jo.

“The council told us they thought our ambition and vision was first-class – they really seemed to like our aims and passion for promoting local business.

“Sadly we have not been successful, but I wish the traders and the Buttermarket a happy and prosperous future,” she said.

Yesterday, the Hereford Times reported the Buttermarket as “under new management”  with the council sold on a pitch by Hereford businessman Darren Sockett.

Mr Sockett and CIC put business cases to a panel of councillors and officers from the council and Hereford City Council earlier this month.

The Sockett plan sees the Buttermarket becoming a hub for small business start ups to complement its retail offer.

The deal done yesterday has the council  receiving payment for the listed Victorian site equivalent to the current market value. 

Mr Sockett said:  “I am delighted to receive the support from Herefordshire Council, Hereford City Council and the Butter Market Traders Association and to be entrusted with the future of the Butter Market.

All of the team here look forward to revitalising the Butter Market which will stay open for business, whilst we carry out our planned major improvements.

We have a great vision for the Butter Market which will be a source of new opportunities and a great destination for shoppers.”

Councillor Harry Bramer, cabinet member contracts and assets said the panel was “very impressed” with the Sockett bid.

“The council is keen to ensure the city centre remains a thriving shopping and visitor destination and the plans are very much aligned with this.”

The Butter Market, which currently offers fresh produce as well as other traditional retail stalls will be extended to offer a more diverse range of products and services; becoming a hub for small business start-ups and education.

Steve Kerry, Hereford City Council town clerk, said: “The City Council has been pleased to be involved in the selection of a preferred bidder for refurbishing the Butter Market and we support the choice of Darren Sockett.  The Butter Market is a vital part of High Town and it is very good news that this project is proceeding.”

Antony Hill, chairman of the Butter Market independent traders association, said: “We welcome the news that Darren Sockett has been selected as the preferred bidder, we are confident that he will have the best interests of the Butter Market traders at heart.”

On the selection panel were:

Geoff Hughes - Herefordshire Council director (economy communities and corporate).

Peter Robinson  – now Herefordshire Council director of resources.

Anthony Featherstone, Herefordshire Council head of corporate asset management.

Chris Jenner Herefordshire Council  head of technical and parking services.

Councillor Graham Powell – Herefordshire Council cabinet member, economy & corporate services.

Councillor Harry Bramer - Herefordshire Council cabinet member, contracts and assets.

Stephen Kerry -  clerk to Hereford City Council.

Sharon Michael, Whitecross ward councillor  - Herefordshire Council.

Councillors made the final selection decision.

The shortlist for Buttermarket suitors came down to two in December, both selected from four parties that pitched submissions to a cross council panel

All told, the council received six expressions of interest in redeveloping the Buttermarket  following a national marketing campaign – two parties subsequently dropped out.

Herefordshire Council wanted a Buttermarket that retained its traditional function while offering opportunities for small business start-ups and education.

Hereford City Council shared the same vision - provided that vision could build on the history of the site.

After years of stagnation, the  Buttermarket has moved fast towards a fresh future.

That future gathered pace a year ago when the Hereford Times reported a bid by traders and businessmen would have seen the Buttermarket run as community enterprise.

By then, a refurbishment was on hold with work estimated at costing between £3 million to  £5 million.

Council  decisions over the future for the market - which is protected by a charter - had reached a critical point.

Over the previous five years partnerships with architecture firms and Hereford City Council had been suggested and dismissed amid  disparities over budgets and visions for the site.

The council had even warned of the potential for a  freehold disposal of the site if the right circumstances  presented.

In 2013 the council was backing away from the development with cabinet removing recommendations committing the council to that redevelopment if the Buttermarket could not be transferred to Hereford City Council or “other interested parties.”

Then,  members were warned that the city council was “very cautious” about any takeover when its operating budget was compared to that of the Buttermarket.

But the Buttermarket in the hands of private sector shareholders was accepted as a “hard sell.”

The council had been actively negotiating a transfer of the Buttermarket’s   ownership, operation and future redevelopment.

Cabinet was expected to commit the council to continuing negotiations but on the basis that it would take on the redevelopment – funded through further borrowing – if a transfer could not be agreed.

 Instead, cabinet removed recommendations relating to the council’s responsibility for the redevelopment should talks fail.

Built in 1860, the market has suffered from limited capital investment over recent years and the building requires substantial investment to stay open.

The freehold valuation of the site in December was estimated at around  £1 million, with freehold disposal estimated at £1.25 million.

In 2011, the then Hereford Futures was asked to bring forward a financially viable refurbishment scheme.

The then cabinet member for highways, transportation and waste approved the appointment of Wrenbridge-Trebor LLP as the preferred developer.

A resulting feasibility study offered a number of options for consideration, but Hereford Futures indicated that a recommendation to finance redevelopment through borrowing would mean Wrenbridge-Trebor could not be appointed, as it would breach European procurement processes that the project was subject to.

The council had been sustaining annual losses against its budgeted income stream from the Buttermarket.

An estimated 2013/14 income budget for the Buttermarket was £273,000 against a spending budget of around £150,000.

Further annual costs associated with maintenance and repairs are about £25-£35,000 based on average spending over recent years.