Darlington Markets

Darlington is a traditional market town with an iconic Victorian Market Hall and Clocktower as the heart of the town centre. Darlington boasted a thriving market in the 1980’s, however, saw little or no reinvestment in the building and as such fell into disrepair. Footfall has been steadily declining over the last decade, with key anchors in the Town Centre leaving for out of town retail centres, and the existing tenant base in the Market failing to embrace modern trading methods.

Project Value: £3.5 million
Project Fees: £ 22K
Project Commencement Date: June 2019
Delivery Date: October 2019
Client: Market Asset Management (Darlington) Ltd
Contact: Jonathan Owen, Property Director Market Asset Management: jonathan.owen@marketassetmanagement.com

Quarterbridge was retained to:

  • Undertake a user review to determine demographics including; who uses the market and reasons why other demographics do not use the market. From this information, the basis of a leasing plan was devised to enable further information to feed into it.
  • Identify operational issues with the existing market service
  • Review existing plans for the redevelopment of the Victorian Market Hall and comment on fitness for purpose.
  • Undertake stakeholder interviews to assess opinions on the needs of the market and the aims for the redevelopment including reviews of existing infrastructure when compared to the future leasing strategy for the market.
  • Identify an ideal tenant mix post-redevelopment via a complete leasing strategy, with guidance on infrastructure changes, demographic influence and impact on the market.
  • Suggest detailed amendments to the plans where deemed necessary
  • Produce concept boards to illustrate relevant examples for various aspects of the proposed plans
  • Produce high-level business cases for redevelopment plans
  • Develop an indicative lettings schedule including varied lease structures, all related to the core leasing strategy
  • Make recommendations about future operations including amended opening hours (based on proposed tenant mix as presented in the leasing strategy), repurposing of space, service and utility provision and facilities maintenance
  • Produce a high-level animation and events programme
  • Drafting of occupational agreements, market management regulations, shopper charter and tenant shopfitting guides.
  • The next stages will be the appointment of Quarterbridge as letting agents for the scheme.

To be successful, markets must represent the needs of the local population so they can take ownership of it and utilise the services.

In August 2017 Darlington Borough Council leased the management of the market to Market Asset Management (Darlington) Ltd, who have since undertaken survey and enablement works to draw up designs for the redevelopment of the Grade II listed building. These were launched in Spring 2019 and included enclosing the Market’s covered exterior in glass to house a temperate garden feature, which has proved extremely popular with the public during initial consultation.

Quarterbridge worked with Market Asset Management Darlington Ltd. ensuring designs represent the level of aspiration both MAM and Darlington Borough Council have for the Market Hall, which is to feature as the centrepiece of the Town Centre Regeneration Strategy.

The core basis of the project and guidance on the redevelopment came from 10 principles we use when creating a leasing strategy, similar to those a shopping centre may use, but specifically designed and aimed at independent businesses and market/food hall situations.

  • Review of current vacancy levels
  • Upcoming lease/licence expiry’s
  • Occupancy Costs vs Market Rental Levels including rent styles such as turnover rents
  • Anchor Tenants or aspirational anchor tenants
  • Review of existing tenant mix
  • Engagement with existing tenants to understand their views, aspirations and requirements
  • Engagement with shoppers (both existing and non-market shoppers through in person surveys and online surveys) to discover shopper requirements
  • Local and regional competition
  • How can new businesses be attracted?
  • Investment required in vacant space to make it attractive space for new lettings or alternative uses


Vacancy levels in the market have been increasing over a number of years, with rents being uncompetitive compared with vacant units in the town centre. The Market has few remaining anchor tenants and the current tenant mix requires re-focussing to attract more diverse age and economic profile. Recommendations included repurposing vacant space to include an emphasis towards F&B, entertainment, book exchanges, additional seating, exhibition areas and demolishing vacant stalls to enhance sightlines.

User reviews were undertaken to identify demographics using the market in its current form and those who were not customers at the market. This was achieved using customer surveys and stakeholder engagement with stallholders. To be successful, markets must represent the needs of the local population so they can take ownership of it and utilise the services. This data analysis is invaluable in forming a future offer appropriate for the location’s residents and visitors.

Quarterbridge undertook a full review including detailed suggestions about stall layouts, must-have and desirable features of the redevelopment, concept boards to illustrate these features and high-level financial cases for different levels of redevelopment. Quarterbridge identified a key tenant mix and used this to produce an indicative letting schedule.

Key elements explored were an extended F&B option on the market floor to act as a footfall driver to the fresh food produce and retail stalls. Retail space was reconfigured into smaller stalls with enhanced flexibility appealing to smaller businesses and allow for nimble change as trends continue to shift.

New lease and rental structures were developed to include F&B units operating on turnover rents and flexible terms to incentivise both landlord and tenant driving business into the market hall to promote dwell and generate income. The new development requires rental structures which are competitive compared with nearby shop units, providing a commercially sound case for investment. By carefully formulating the letting schedule to include start-up incentives and risk-sharing through turnover rents, the redeveloped market can be competitive both locally and regionally and attract an eclectic mix of SME’s and independent retailers.

Diversified uses have been incorporated into the new design to ensure the redeveloped market hall has a variety of USP’s and would be sustainable. This included co-working space to act as incubators for businesses, exhibition space to display artwork from local creatives, a demonstration kitchen area and stage for live music, comedy and events.


Darlington Market Square Clock Tower
Darlington Outdoor Market
Darlington Market Square Clock Tower