FRESH plans to breathe new life into Kendal's 'declining' indoor and outdoor markets are expected to take a major step forward next week.

South Lakeland District Council is poised to draw up a tender to lure private sector companies to take on the operation of the markets for a five-year lease.

The aim is to bring them 'into the 21st century' by delivering profitability, year-on-year growth and a range of improvements.

More than a dozen companies showed initial interest and the council’s ruling cabinet will be asked next Wednesday to move the project up a gear.

SLDC said the markets were in decline and there was a pressing need for an improved layout, new units, better branding and a more consistent appearance of stalls.

The Market Hall, built more than 130 years ago, requires investment with the hope being that a company with experience in markets can take it on.

High on the council's agenda is improved marketing, better promotion and more events to put Kendal back on the map as a genuine market town.

The council is also keen to see greater links between the market and businesses in Market Place and the town's bustling historic yards.

Cllr Andrew Jarvis, the cabinet member for finance, said SLDC did not have the skills for such a project but was prepared to invest in a relaunch.

He said it was an opportunity to 'refresh, renew and re-invigorate' a market, which had a long and important connection to Kendal residents.

Cllr Jarvis, the Liberal Democrat member for Windermere, said: "We have seen in other areas that a vibrant market can be the heart of a town and would look to improve the attractiveness, layout, and appearance so that the market becomes an attraction in its own right."

Sarah Williams, the manager of Kendal Business Improvement District, said an overhaul could lift traders' confidence and bring back shoppers.

Mrs Williams is a long-standing director of the 20-year-old Kendal Farmers' Market, which meets once-a-month, drawing up to 35 producers.

She said: "We are really supportive of improvements to the markets as they have been in decline for so long. We need something that boosts the town. We need someone with the investment and experience to take them on as it's going to need a real labour of love. Anything which improves the aesthetics, brings back more traders, makes it vibrant, and brings people into the town, can only be a good thing."

She said it was vital that any new markets' layout understood customers' needs, as selling food next to 'two pairs of knickers for a £1' would no longer work.

However, not everyone agreed that the markets needed an upgrade.

John Pitchford, 78, is from Hellifield, North Yorkshire, but visits the market every Wednesday.

He said: “Being the age I am I find that nine times out of 10, changes are for the worse not the better. I would say ‘can you leave it well alone please?’”

Diego Rodrigues, who helps out on a stall in the indoor market, said: “It’s nice to be able to shop somewhere that’s not a multi-national. All the places in here are owned by local people.”

He added the heating up in the ceiling was impractical and could do with changing, but he was worried about the financial impact further improvements might have.

He said: “If they were to spend money on it then rents would go up. I think that’s the main concern for all people who have stalls in here.”

According to Mr Rodrigues, who is originally from Manchester, the market had wider problems which were impacting it. He highlighted the issue of public transport and argued parking policies were “destroying” the town centre.

He said: “In this area nobody can afford to go on the bus unless they have a free bus pass. The bus fares here are the taxi fares in Manchester.”

A six-page report drawn up by SLDC officers outlined some of the suggested improvements.

They include better infrastructure for the outdoor market and suggestions such as branded stalls, gazebos and more space for traders.

It also hopes to see an 'improved layout' inside the market hall with a larger cafe area, new units, and improvements to the appearance of stalls' appearance.

The council is in charge of the management of the markets but regards the status quo as no longer viable for the town.

It launched its markets review in March and more than a dozen parties examined its 'expressions of interest' document.

The next stage is for councillors to sanction officers to draw-up a procurement process and invite tenders to bid.

SLDC has pledged further talks with traders to keep them informed and said: “The interested parties would want to work with the existing traders, and existing traders will need to be willing to improve the look/offer of their stalls and merchandise in line with the new vision for the markets.”

Any lease would not involve any transfer of ownership but the new company would be responsible for the day-to-day maintenance repairs and services.

Any new operator would charge back costs to the council with the two parties likely to consider a profit share. Any new operator would also need to consider the requirements of the Market Charter, which town historians said was first awarded 830 years ago with others following in later centuries.