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MMU-turn on street traders

Jemma Gibson on the parable of MMU v The People and the Veg

Published on April 26th 2011.

MMU-turn on street traders

ON 31 MARCH Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) wrote a letter of objection to Manchester City Council over the fruit and vegetable and fast food stalls at All Saints. It went: ‘The stalls now no longer fit with the aesthetics of their surroundings following major redevelopment works on the Oxford Road corridor’.

But the whole sorry incident raises other questions. It shows how publicly funded bodies such as universities can act as though they are above scrutiny while going on and on about being part of the greater community and working with it.

This development work includes resurfacing the pavement and improvements to All Saints Park, partially funded by MMU, to create ‘an external Learning Landscape’. It’s part of the larger ‘Corridor’ scheme to transform Manchester’s most interesting street.

The University objected to the licences being renewed without consulting stallholders or the public. They wanted Couch Potato and Have a Banana Trading Company gone.

We talked to the stallholders.

Terence Hulston, of Couch Potato, said he was “disgusted by the way MMU had treated the business. It was like being a child locked away in a cupboard, kept in the dark.”

Nick Austin, owner of the 16 year old All Saints institution of Have a Banana Trading Co, said: “It’s deeply troubling that there was no consultation before making this ill-informed objection”.

The University replied saying they’d just wanted the stalls moved not closed down. Austin replied with: “If the stall moved round the corner onto Cavendish Street , the business would survive six months. The whole thing is unbelievable particularly given the aesthetic poverty of other retail outlets in this stretch of Oxford Road. ”

So a campaign was started on Saturday last week (16 April). Within hours 1,400 people had joined the Facebook page, with the same number signing an online petition to oppose MMU’s objection.

MMU looked, trembled and caved in.

A spokesperson for MMU told Confidential this week that they had now “spoken to the stallholders, taken everything into account and come to the right decision”.

The right decision is that the stallholders can stay put.

The admission of a ‘right decision’ means a tacit acknowledgement of a ‘wrong decision’ earlier.

But the whole sorry incident raises other questions. It shows how publicly funded bodies such as universities can act as though they are above scrutiny while going on and on about being part of the greater community and working with it.

A cursory public consultation would have shown how MMU was on its own over this.

Have a Banana and Couch Potato are lively, harmless, colourful and characterful businesses that add to the street theatre that is Oxford Road life. You have to wonder how MMU could have thought anything different.

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15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

J E SibberingApril 20th 2011.

Hurrah! The MMU objection letter must have taken ages to research and write. Maybe they could find something more useful to do with their time?

Michael WestApril 20th 2011.

Petitions do work then? Good news and Power To The People!

simon12234April 20th 2011.

I'm glad the stalls are staying but I don't understand why you say that MMU is 'above scrutiny' on this when all it did was offer its opinion to the council so the council could consider it.

The people of Manchester are represented by their councillors., It is up to councillors or their paid staff to scrutinise objections such as these on behalf of the people. MMU put its objection forward for this scrutiny in the normal manner.

TickleApril 21st 2011.

The whole situation seemed to me as if someone totally out of touch with reality was throwing their weight around to see what they can get away with.

simon12234April 21st 2011.

Tickle, submitting an objection to the city council so it can be considered by our elected representatives is hardly throwing your weight around. Anyone can do it.

Harmless DrudgeApril 21st 2011.

I take Simon12234's point, but is the issue here one of lack of communication between the university high-ups and its students/employees/etc? The objection wasn't just placed by an individual (I agree that anyone would be within their rights to do that), but in the name of MMU as a whole, and claimed that the fruit stall was somehow damaging to the whole university 'community'. Yet it seemed to me that the majority of signatures on the petition came from MMU staff/students who wanted the stall to stay. So I think it's fair to say that this episode does give some sort of insight into the strangely sequestered world in which (some?) university administrators seem to exist.

AnonymousApril 21st 2011.

Simon 12234 up to a point you are right, however a public body as large as MMU could reasonably have been expected to consider the needs and wishes of its own community - staff and students in this case - before making its objection.

TickleApril 21st 2011.

Simon, a big institute submitting objections in the context of their redevelopment plans is not the same thing as Joe Public doing it, the council is obviously going to give more attention to MMU than an individual. This is the weight that I'm talking about.

AnonymousApril 21st 2011.

This was ridiculous, especially as they add to vibrant street and provide cheap and healthy food in an oasis of takeaways. we need to be vigilant against blandness on our streets and the misuse of power by large institutions. I seem to recall a similar fuss about the bookstall at the uni last year.

AnonymousApril 21st 2011.

Lets not forget that this is a private business operating on nice big bit of public space - much like The Stupid Big Wheel in Exchange Square.

What if I wanted to operate a stall on the same spot or nearby; what if 50 people did? What if I just wanted to walk down the pavement unimpeded. I think it is right to consider the impact of businesses on the local environment.

The stall sits on a newly and expensively widened pavement in front of one of the few open green spaces in the city. Is it really so unreasonable to question the impact of a mobile commercial unit on this setting?

I think what MMU is doing is here is entirely legitimate and reasoned, although perhaps it went about it in a a cack-handed way.

TommyApril 22nd 2011.

I think there should be more of those little businesses in that area. It would be cool if there were lots of booksellers and artists setting up around the gardens and along Oxford Road like they do in Paris along the banks of the Seine. I'm not comparing diesel fumed Oxford Road with the Seine but I think those little stalls they have selling books in Paris would work well in the University and may be students from the Art College could sell their stuff at the weekend.Done well it could attract visitors.

TOMMYApril 22nd 2011.

Another thought about my last post. If MMU were really concered about the environment of the area around the gardens they should do something with their buidings. Those designed in the sisties, thrown up in the seventies monstrosities are among the ugliest in the city. Anything that distracts you from having to look at those buildings has to be a good thing.

simon12234April 22nd 2011.

Anonymous, the MMU's 'own community' is not the staff and students.

The staff are hired hands and the students are transient paying/taxpayer subsidised customers.

The 'community' in MMU's case is the taxpayer. That's why it is entirely correct that the MMU's objection was put to the council which represents them.

Han Fang LiApril 27th 2011.

Its not the first time MMU have tried and failed to remove, Have A Banana.

Cafe HistoriqueNovember 20th 2012.

Good news... The Banana Stall - Have a Banana + the Cafe Historique are co-curating a photographic exhibition documenting the life of "one of Manchester's few remaining street fruit and veg stalls" + would like to hear from you if you happen to be one of the many passers-by, artists, students, etc. who have over the years photographed the Banana Stall.

If you would like to contribute to this exciting exhibition, please contact the Banana Stall or the Cafe Historique via Facebook or Twitter.


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