A public inquiry beginning tomorrow will pit Henderson Global Investors against Save Britain’s Heritage over the redevelopment of London’s Smithfield Market.
Henderson plans to turn the presently derelict Victorian market building into a retail and office complex, which would involve removing the market’s roof.
The scheme is supported by Boris Johnson, the City of London Corporation, English Heritage, and the Smithfield market tenants’ association.
However, it is opposed by Save Britain’s Heritage and the Victorian Society. Their campaign has secured backing from celebrities including Alan Bennett and Kristin Scott Thomas.
‘If you go to St Bartholomew’s and then walk through Smithfield, it is like walking from one cathedral to another. You wouldn’t pull down St Bartholomew’s, nor should you pull down Smithfield,’ said Bennett.
Scott Thomas added: ‘Smithfield general market is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture. We should be treasuring this part of our heritage. What the Paris developers did to Les Halles is remembered as an act of vandalism. Do we really want to be remembered as the generation who did the same thing to London?’
In response, Henderson cited a YouGov poll revealing that 54% of Londoners questioned believed that the Smithfield project should go ahead as soon as possible, with just 17% against.
‘These results show that Londoners support our scheme, which will save and bring back to life Victorian market buildings that have lain empty for decades. The clear majority recognise that Smithfield Quarter will change the area for the better, will be effective in retaining the Victorian appearance of the buildings and should go ahead as soon as possible,’ commented Geoff Harris, director of property development at Henderson.
‘The Victorians were good at change, yet it is striking that there is a tendency for some to represent change as threatening and unacceptable. By a clear margin most Londoners do not share this view and want to see us improve and regenerate the area as quickly as possible.
‘There is no realistic alternative to Smithfield Quarter and if our scheme does not get approved then these disused historic buildings will continue to decay, leaving the site blighted by further uncertainty.’
The site was previously owned by Thornfield, whose plans for Smithfield were rebuffed by a public inquiry in 2008. Thornfield subsequently went into administration and the property was acquired by Henderson in 2010. The historic market buildings have been derelict for more than 30 years.
Henderson has estimated that the development will cost it £160 million, and has already spent approximately £4 million on structural improvements to the railway system beneath the market.