Harrogate Christmas Market fiasco

18 October 2012

Harrogate Christmas MarketHarrogate Christmas Market organisers are verdantly standing by their decision to not allow food stands to sell food for consumption during the market – running between 22 – 25 November 2012.

Locally, there has been a strong backlash over the ban in having food you can eat at a market, many believe that this is a key feature of a Christmas Market.


On-line there has been active debate, these are some of the typical comments:-

  • I think banning food stalls is a little short sighted. Most people I know who go to Leeds and other markets also go for the different food that is on offer there it adds to the experience of going to a Christmas market.
  • I personally think that no food at the Christmas Market is a bad decision, people do come to this sort of event expecting to find typical christmas fayre on offer. Now we are expected to leave the market and find local businesses serving the usual food. We want something different and without there being something there on site those of us with children will probably have to go to the awful MacDonalds. Come on, think again.
  • Very disappointed that there will be no food. I work in Harrogate, but will visit the Leeds market instead – delicious and unusual food.
  • No doubt the Montpellier Quarter has excellent cafe’s, restaurants and bars but who really wants to sit in a crowded cafe when they have come to enjoy a bit of fresh air and traditional christmas fayre? Not I and I fear many will be following Jane <referring to previous comment> to Leeds and other markets. This was a real opportunity to start something good and already it appears to have been knee-capped by local traders who wouldn’t have a clue how much business these ‘continental markets’ do actually bring into town. No doubt they will be hiking their prices to take full advantage of those attending who have not been informed that their children will not be treated to a Hot Pretzel, Stollen Bread or Warming Gluwhein. As a trader attending this event after a rotten summer due to the weather (show cancellations, footfall, etc) I now find myself extremely worried that it will fall short of expectations due to this very short sighted decision.


The event is being organised by the Harrogate Christmas Market Committee in conjuncition with the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and is to be operated by Yorkshire Business Markets Ltd, an enterprise operated by Brian Dunsby, the Chief Executive of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce.

Harrogate-News has requested details of the members who form the Christmas Market Committee and those members who made the decision to not have food. The information has not been forthcoming.

Brian Dunsby, Chief Executive of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade said:

The regulations are very strict and the risks of litter and nuisance are high.

Brian Dunsby has written to all stall holders that have requested to hold food stalls for consumption, declining their application. In his email he explains that there is a firm policy decision not to have any catering stalls offering food and drink for consumption within the Market on the grounds of health and safety concerns, food hygiene regulations, licensing regulations and potential litter problems.  The policy also applies to open unwrapped or uncooked foodstuffs, even if intended for taking home.

In the his response to trade stall holders, Brian Dunsby also explains that the decision was taken because the market location is surrounded by numerous cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels who naturally wish to cater for our many visitors.

Sandra Doherty is the proprietor of the Alexa Guest house and is the current president of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade & Commerce.

Sandra Doherty said:

The Christmas Market Committee in conjunction with the Chamber Management group decided as this was our first venture into running a Christmas Market we would err on the side of caution and not have stalls which required facilities such as water and cooking and those who would provide hot food or food for consumption on the day.

We also felt that due to the site and position of the market… surrounded by Hotels Cafes and restaurants we did not want to upset out local trade people who do pay rates and provide food all year.

We are trying to provide a great new event for Harrogate without upsetting our own Chamber members and the local trade people.

I hope “the People of Harrogate” can understand we are trying something new… We can only do our best and can take feedback positive or not after the event.

As it is just about sold out now there is absolutely no point in having any more discussions about it this year as it would be very unfair to allow some food related stalls in at this late stage after turning several away earlier.

I would hazard a guess that there will be an equal number of people who will be pleased that there is not an issue with the rubbish and smells caused by stands selling food. And another set of people who would rather that there was no market at all. It is one of those can’t please all the people situations.


The Market Square Group operate many markets throughout the UK and had been previously been in negotiations to run the Christmas Market.

As a company, they have great experience in Christmas Markets and this is the only market that they are aware of that will not allow food for consumption at the time.

They were forced to pull out of operating the Harrogate market due to what they saw as unreasonable conditions being placed upon them, making it unviable.


Paul Kennedy of the Market Square Group said:

We had to withdraw from providing this year’s Christmas Market due to too many restrictions being placed on the type of stalls we could have.

Tighter and tighter restrictions meant the market simply became unviable. We were told the restrictions were because traders in the town didn’t want their businesses affected.

Even though we argued that the market would complement existing business offerings and bring more people into the town for the benefit of all, it fell on deaf ears.

We have also had to take the decision not to return to Harrogate in future with our very popular World Village Market due to the same restrictions.


Paul Kennedy, commenting on the decision to not allow food stalls:

This decision comes as no surprise to us.

It simply boils down to short-sighted people with vested interests who have slowly and surely removed any variety and viability from a Christmas market which will now be just a shadow of what it has been in the past and what it could have been in the future.


The apparent policy of protectionism by the Chamber Trade does not serve the people of Harrogate well. While it can can be understood that in the current economic climate that support of trade is difficult and needs support, controlling a market place is not the way to achieve that.

Hosting a vibrant market, in the traditional way with food you can eat at the time, will encourage many more to Harrogate and the local businesses would more likely gain business from the spillover from that.

More consultation should have taken place with the community and too much emphasis has been placed upon the needs of local traders rather than what the residence of the town want.

Having visitors potentially leave Harrogate with disappointment over the market is damaging for Harrogate and jeopardises the future of the market in the coming years as people will not want to return.



  1. What a mess.

    Brian Dunsby – don’t make the British mistake of hiding behind Health and Safety, that doesn’t wash any more, we’re all too practical for that.
    Sandra Doherty – if you’re trying something new stick to a tried and tested formula, don’t go out on a limb with something new and fail.

    It’s on at a stupid time anyway when Harrogate is chocca full of Knitting and Stitching attendees. Why not have it the weekend before, or after, and spread the load, giving 2 busy weekends, not just one? Surely that would be better for all.

    There’s lots of bad publicity flying about regarding this stupid decision, really hope it doesn’t backfire on Harrogate as a whole, because that will also affect the protectionist restaurants, bars and cafes.

    It’s never too late to change your mind and get a bucket load of good publicity.

  2. Just checking but if held next year will it still be able to be called a ‘Christmas’ Market or will the namby pamby politically correct, health and safety drop that too?

  3. What a farce!

    Other markets in Harrogate have had food stalls. I have eaten hot paella and seen sausages in rolls, crepes etc.

    Personally, I won’t be going to this one if this is the case and WILL travel further to Leeds to enjoy the COMPLETE market experience there!

    Once people have heard about this/read this article, I think they may too and then Harrogate will miss out on a lot of trade that this new attraction could have brought in.

    Shame really :(

    • It does seem rather petty as the other markets on Cambridge Street have food. I had a partially cooked German beefburger once and survived, and the paella always looked good. Was that the World Village Market referred to above that won’t be back?
      Why is Harrogate Chamber so shortsighted? I wonder about their business acumen sometimes. Quite obviously the wrong people are running this market, and now they’ve upset the Market Square Group what’s going to happen?
      The moaning cafes, restaurants and hotels that have spoiled this need to look to the long term. Happy punters at the Xmas Fair could quite easily come back for a weekend and longer, unhappy punters at the Xmas Fair will never be back, and neither will all their friends they tell.

  4. Well this bad press certainly won’t encourage people to visit the market either. Instead of focusing on the only negative point can we not get behind a local event that is showcasing a lot of local traders who have no control over this situation?

    As they have said they have made the decision and “can only do [their] best and can take feedback positive or not after the event”.

    It may be that they learn from this and next year will include food and drink. But as for 2012 it’s not the case, and by continually drilling the point home that there won’t be any food or drink could have a detrimental effective, and in my view is not supporting your community.

    I for one hope the market is a success and am looking forward to it.

    • Just because a decision is wrong doesn’t mean that you have to sit back and accept it. This market has to be a real showpiece, especially as it’s Harrogate’s first. You only get one chance at a first impression.
      The market will be a success, mainly as Harrogate will be full of Knitting and Stitching attendees, but it will be hard to assess who has come just for the market, who is here anyway, and who will be coming back next year just for the market. It’s not too late to get mulled wine and bratwurst on the menu.

  5. It’s easy really, don’t waste your money in Harrogate and go to a properly organised market in Leeds.

  6. I could not believe this when I heard from someone and had to check this website to see it for myself. Like ‘IWontBotherEither’, I have eaten food at the market on Cambridge Street, so the Health and Safety comment is fabrication. If people come to Harrogate for the market, they will then visit local bars/restaurant after the market, so if anything, it will bring business in. For a council that has allowed a Tesco to build here, which will permanently close local businesses, this seems a very strange decision. Im pretty sure I will stick with Leeds who have got it right. And afterwards I will patronise one of their bars!

  7. No Xmas food in Harrogate? No Bratwurst, no mulled wine, no burgers?

    Nice one HBC – looks like I’ll take my Xmas money and go treat myself to a lots of indulgences in Leeds Xmas Market where they know how to do it properly. I’d recommend the organisers of the Harrogate Xmas Market also take a trip to the Leeds Xmas Market to SEE HOW IT IS DONE PROPERLY.

  8. What an incredibly unhelpful, negative article as well as some typically Harrogate style grumpy, predictable, saddening responses.

    A Harrogate based group attempting to operate a new event to attract tourism to the town and this website’s owner doing his/ her best to discredit it openly before the event has even been held. Let’s hope its a massive success, with locals and visitors attending both the event and Harrogate’s bars, restaurants and shops bringing a boost to the local economy.

    I too visit the ‘German’ Christmas Market in Leeds, hence why I think its the right decision to be a little different at the Harrogate market.

  9. This is a very badly thought out decision. Instead of just listening to selfish cafe owners, what about those of us who also trade in the town but don’t sell food? I’m part of a vintage shop in the nearby Ginnel and an event like this brings in valuable trade to small businesses – especially ones off the main drag. We don’t view this as competition even though we could argue that someone buying a gift at the market is taking business away from us. And as for the potential hazard of food mess, what about the Stray fair?

  10. There are now over 100 stallholders who have paid to take part in what I am sure would have been a great fair. But of course your reporting is doing its best to stop that happening. Regardless of whether food & drink vendors should be there (and I actually think they should), it’s the small business people taking part who are obviously now going to suffer from the growing negative publicity. I’ve had numerous contact with two of the organisers who are doing their utmost to make it a fun and festive event. Views have been expressed, which is everyone’s right but can we not criticize it entirely until at least we see what it was actually like? I know someone else who was dismayed at all the negative comments and left a reply here but it never got posted.

  11. I run a shop in Harrogate and the most hilarious bit of protectionism has been missed.

    I quote directly from the letter I received this week:

    “Traders are also prohibited from using kettles and cookers on their stands for their own refreshment”.


  12. As a Fellow of the International institute of Risk & Safety Managers, it saddens me to see that yet again, ignorance is blaming Health and Safety concerns for something that clearly has another agenda. There is no reason at all why food stalls should not be allowed in the festival. With the correct assessment and advice, it is actually not that complicated.

    Why can’t HBS just be honest about the reasons for not wanting food service at the market and stop adding to the Health and Safety blame culture? This is not helpful for anyone concerned and just makes the organisers look foolish.

    I personally don’t care if there is food at the Christmas Market or not but lease do not use Health and Safety ‘restrictions’ as an excuse .

  13. The organisers of this event are evidently asleep at the wheel if they think this is going to work. Food is synonymous with Christmas markets much like popcorn is at the cinema.

    There are way too many politics at play in the organisation of the market and too many conflicts of interest, the net result of which is that the public are going to end up with a sub-standard market.

    And can someone explain why they are advertising for volunteers? Surely all the stall holders will be making a profit (if anyone turns up) as will the organisers, so why would anyone in their right mind volunteer to help when all around them are getting paid?

    The organisation of these things requires professional input but the organisers have decided to ignore all advice and good sense. I hope the market does do well for the sale of the traders and the public but the organisation of it looks dubious to say the least

    • None of the organisers of this event are being paid they are all volunteers giving freely of their time – this is one of the reasons Market Square Group pulled out – they refused to give a discount to local companies if they chose to have a stand and its now sour grapes as they know they would have made a tidy profit. There may be a small profit after the stalls (all of which are hired), lights, equipment, generators, toilet block and reindeer are paid for but this money will be ploughed back into marketing and facilities for 2013 and frankly after all that is paid for it doubt it will be much. The company running the event is a limited company and the accounts will be freely avaliable if anyone wants to double check.

      The reason they are asking for vounteers is because the organisers hope a team of locals in an ambassadorial role of helping people find their way from the train and bus station, find shops, find toilets and help with general stewarding duties on the day will help make this a successful event I am sorry if I sound nieve.

  14. I am really looking forward to the Harrogate Christmas Market, and for those that are interested Palm Court Cafe will be open throughout, serving homemade mince pies, soups, hot/cold drinks, and light lunches. Everything is available to take away, so you can still enjoy atmosphere outside. We are situated at the bottom of Montpellier Hill (above Farrah’s Food Hall), I hope to see you there.

      • Palm Court rent their cafe and are a small business doing their best to provide nice food and support themselves and their employees -“bet you own it!!” even if they did it doesn’t make them flush with cash! especially with the number of new cafe’s opening all the time!

  15. Ahh, so the local cafes are allowed to sell nice pies, soup and coffee and allow the food and drink to be taken outside, where there is concern that stall holders selling food may generate more waste rubbish to go on the floor!!!! Food for thought there then :-)
    good luck to all involved this Merry Xmas

  16. Its a disgrace. Litter? People who come to such markets are tidy and courteous. If there is a problem with litter then Mr Dunsby and his dynamic team should close McDonalds – does he ever see the amount of rubbish that is constantly left by the cenotaph?
    And as for upsetting local traders – they need to sharpen their ideas if they want to compete for business – Harrogate is overpriced and overrated – poor service in many of the restaurants and cafes.
    Will Mr Dunsby consider asking foods retailers to close for the day so that everyone can operate equally?
    Go back to debating Tescos and let normal people enjoy themselves after a difficult year.
    Mark Reinholz

  17. Another stupid decision by the self appointed elders of Harrogate who represent a handful of people in the town.

    We badly need a weekly/bi weekly street market along the lines of Skipton, Ripon, Knaresborough and every other town in Yorkshire which could also use James Street and get lots more visitors to the town.

    Unless we are waiting for Tesco to decimate the centre first.

    Will probably go to Leeds as usual and try a few pubs afterwards.


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