City chief slams Pickles over 'ridiculous' Smithfield decision
A City of London chief has blasted Eric Pickles for his decision to throw out the John McAslan-designed plans to redevelop Smithfield Market
Mark Boleat, chairman of policy and resources for the Corporation, hit out at the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for concluding there was ‘no pressing need for offices’ in the central London location as part of his judgement on the scheme.
Last week Pickles agreed with the planning inspector that the Henderson Global Investors-backed scheme to convert the Victorian building into shops and 21,220m² of office space would have ‘an extremely harmful effect on the area’ and questioned whether more commercial space was needed around Smithfield.
Speaking to the AJ Boleat said: ‘For the Secretary of State to say that there isn’t a need [for offices]- what [is the] basis? Is he better than Henderson at judging whether there is a need?
‘We are not about need. We are about market demand. And the government’s funding strategy for Crossrail is partly dependent on new developments near Crossrail on the grounds that they benefit from it. We just find it very odd. He [Pickles] approved the Shell scheme, is there a lack of need there?’
Boleat added: ‘To say there is no need for office space in Farringdon is ridiculous. It is an office area. That’s what it is. I am surprised to hear a man like Pickles, who is a man for keeping off the backs of business, say that he knows better.
‘There is no way Henderson is going to build an office which will stay empty.’
The City of London had approved plans by developer Henderson to turn the buildings bordering Farringdon Road and included disused parts of the historic Smithfield Market into a new commercial quarter.
The scheme, which had tentative support from CABE and English Heritage was contested by campaigners including the SAVE Britain’s Heritage, which has submitted rival plans by Cathedral Group.
It is the second time in a decade that a plan to redevelop the site has been thrown out at public inquiry.
In the report, Pickles agreed with the planning inspector that the McAslan scheme would compromise the heritage value of both the market and other surrounding buildings.
Boleat Added: ‘We have an organisation called English Heritage, which has now been replaced by the Secretary of State. The City of London will not accept any criticism about heritage, we spend a fortune on heritage and heritage assets.’
‘We want to see that site developed. It is an eye-sore, it’s in an area which is rapidly picking up, partly due to a combination of Crossrail and Thameslink, and this site needs to be developed.‘
Asked for his thoughts on reports that Henderson could sit on the site until the lease runs out in 2020 Boleat said: ‘It is their land, it is not ours. But they want to develop it clearly, the planning application cost them a great deal of money.
‘2020 is not far away, with the best will in the world, whatever is happening now the scheme is delayed anyway. If they decide they want to do another scheme it’s going to take months to do that.’
‘But they have to say ‘what are the chances of getting an agreement’. Even the calling in has cost them. It is easy for other people whose money it isn’t to criticise and say ‘this is what you should do’.