Traders will finally move back into Kingston’s ancient market place next week, as the overdue £3m project to redevelop the historic site finally nears completion.
Almost two months later than originally planned, Kingston Council has announced it will once again be business as usual at the iconic market come Monday, May 19.
Stall holders were temporarily relocated to Memorial Gardens in February in order to stop the project from overrunning, and initialy told they would be back by April 13.
One month later, and large areas of the market still looked unfinished when Brandon Lewis, parliamentary under secretary for communities and local government, visited Kingston for the UK launch of national Love Your Local Market fortnight on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Mr Lewis said: “It’s really impressive. Even on the temporary market there’s a great buzz and a really good mix of different offers.
“It’s a great place and hopefully it will be here for a long time to come.”
Brandon Lewis, left, is shown around the new market place
But shoppers were just glad to see the end.
Kingston resident Pat Coen said: “I feel it’s gone on forever.
“It was a great pity it wasn’t finished in time for the May Merrie – it was so fragmented this year.”
Tony Goshawk, market spokesman and owner of Tony’s Fruit Stall, said he was “positive and optimistic”, about the move.
He said: “It has been hard, it has been difficult, but if we didn’t move out it would have taken even longer.”
Kingston Council inisits the site will be ready for the market traders by Monday
Zhivka Lawrence, manager of Olivier’s Bakery, said: “It has been hard, but we have to work together and I’m very positive.”
The project has been hit by a number of setbacks, including the discovery of a shallow gas pipe beneath Church Street that needed to be decommissioned before being capped and paved over.
That delay alone was believed to have put the scheme back by three or four weeks.
Bizarrely, a spokesman for Kingston Council repeatedly insisted the work was being finished on schedule.
He said: “The project is on track for its target completion date at the end of this month.”
But in a letter to councillors dated April 15, 2013, project manager Mark Teasdale said the scheme was expected to finish by March.
A press briefing from Kingston Council and Kingston First in May that year also gave the same March date.
On Wednesday, the project website gave two finish dates – May 4 and May 19.
When the market was relocated in February, Mr Teasdale wrote a letter to traders that said: “The temporary relocation of the market will be for the seven-week period from Monday, February 24 to Sunday, April 13, by which time the new permanent market stalls in the Market Place will be ready for occupation.”
An official launch event for the new Market Place is scheduled for June 24.