A SEA of yellow and blue stalls, Gloucester Green market is now over-subscribed for the first time in decades after two private firms took control.

Oxford City Council has handed over responsibility for the market to Geraud and LSD, two companies with a track record for results across the UK.

And for those who were cynical ahead of Wednesday’s big launch, the sight of the market square packed with stalls and customers may have gone some way to putting people’s minds at rest. But why was the market looking tired and empty in the first place?

The answer, as council leader Bob Price has readily admitted, is money.

The council had already been subsidising the market to the tune of £80,000 a year, because it makes less in rent than it spends on the upkeep.

By bringing more traders into the market and by better promoting the products on offer, the new management will hope to make it profitable again. The square has the capacity for 100 stalls, but has previously only catered for between 30 and 40. The cost of renting a spot in the market will be frozen at £28.67 a day for the first year of the contract, and the council will still have responsibility for setting the rents, which are expected to rise with inflation. The new lease of life given to the market was partly down to the expertise and experience of Geraud and LSD, something the council could never claim to match, and through a £150,000 investment in new stalls and in marketing.

The council – with £12m of cuts already made and more than £8m of extra on the horizon – was in no position to spend money on the market, and stalls faded, interest dwindled and visitor numbers dropped.

But the market still had a unique selling point, which the new managers were keen to build on, according to Geraud’s Tony Fraser.

He said: “We get a lot of opportunities to bid for contracts and a lot of the time we find those markets can not be saved, that the world has moved on around them.

“Stratford and Oxford were identified as two places where we could really make a difference.

“What you’ve got here is three fruit and veg traders who are busy from the beginning of the day to the end, which is unprecedented in our experience.

“I think the market has been neglected in terms of promotion, which is nobody’s fault.”

It was the two companies’ reputation for running markets across the UK and Europe which brought many of the new traders in to Gloucester Green. Opening the new-look market on Wednesday, Lord Mayor of Oxford Dee Sinclair said the only way was up.

She said: “It’s a wonderful asset to the city of Oxford. It increases the diversity of the shopping experience and this is really good news.”

The modern-day Gloucester Green Wednesday market opened in 1986 after moving from Oxpens. Stallholders sell a variety of items, from clothes to hot food, fruit and veg to bric-a-brac.

On Thursdays, a craft and antique market is held and a farmers’ market takes place fortnightly, also on Thursdays. Time will tell if the initial hype of bright new stalls, a new management and promises of better promotions pays off.

TRADERS old and new were singing the market’s praises after a record number of stalls were packed in for Wednesday’s grand re-opening.

The same traders, who weeks ago criticised the market’s tired and shabby appearance under city council rule, now see a bright new future at Gloucester Green.

Many of the newcomers also trade at the market in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is considered to be Geraud and LSD’s latest success story.

Tony Peddle, 50, who sells watch straps, incense and other items from his stall said it was up to customers to vote with their feet. He said: “It’s wonderful, a great start.

This is just day one, but it’s onwards and upwards from here. “If Stratford is anything to go by, it should be good, but we’ve done all we can. Now it’s up to the customers.”

Wednesday represented a first for Phlint, a Wallsall-based company which sells scarves and ties. Owner Linda Harvey said: “We’ve worked with LSD and Geraud before in Stratford, that was the incentive. We hadn’t considered Oxford before. I think there’s a good buzz about the market and the regular people I have seen going by have said how different it is.”