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Developer Cathedral throws weight behind SAVE's alternative Smithfield plans

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Design-savvy developer Cathedral has become the latest name to take up arms in the ‘Second Battle of Smithfield’

The company has pledged its support for rival plans to John McAslan + Partners’ contentious £160million proposals for the London market. The developer confirmed it will be ‘submitting detailed evidence’ for a scheme to retain the existing buildings at the public inquiry into McAslan’s proposed office-led revamp of the decaying landmark which starts tomorrow (11 February).

An alternative scheme to McAslan’s ‘destructive’ plans for the Victorian market, drawn up by Burrell Foley Fischer, has been put forward by anti-demolition campaigners SAVE Britain’s Heritage and the Victorian Society. Cathedral said it had looked at the financial viability of keeping the existing fabric - and whether it could be be turned into a mixed-use scheme - rather than the specifics of the SAVE scheme.

Richard Upton, chief executive of Cathedral said: ‘At the request of SAVE, Cathedral Group and its team of professional advisers has undertaken a full viability assessment to establish a clear economic argument for a retention scheme which will enable the spirit and fabric of the historic Smithfield Market buildings to be preserved.

‘We are confident enough of this assessment to have requested an opportunity to present our detailed evidence to the inspector during the forthcoming public inquiry.’

However the move has been condemned by Henderson Global Investors, the developer behind McAslan’s ‘official’ scheme saying that the evidence offered by Cathedral should be disregarded.

Geoff Harris, development director of Henderson said: ‘We will be vigorously objecting to this blatant breach by SAVE of the Procedural Rules which govern public inquiries.

‘SAVE is showing contempt for the timetable for the submission of evidence set and agreed by all parties at the pre-inquiry meeting with the inspector last year.

He concluded: ‘There are no grounds for the submission of detailed evidence on the opening day of the public inquiry by the Cathedral Group on behalf of SAVE and this latest stunt by SAVE should be thrown out by the inspector.’

The inquiry is expected to last three weeks.

Previous story (AJ 03.02.14)

Labour comes out against McAslan’s Smithfield plans

The Labour Party has waded into the ‘Second Battle of Smithfield’ after coming out against John McAslan + Partners’ contentious £160 million plans for the London market

The party’s Parliamentary Candidate for the Cities of London and Westminster, Nik Slingsby, said he supported an alternative plan to ‘sensitively’ repair and reopen the famous Victorian market proposed by SAVE - the lead campaigner against McAslan’s ‘destructive’ designs.

His comments come just days before the public inquiry (11 February) into McAslan’s plans - drawn up for Henderson Global Investors - which would see the General Market and Annex converted into 5,700m² of shops and 21,220m² of office space.

Slingsby said: ‘Having worked and studied close to the beautiful Smithfield Market, I fully support SAVE’s and the Victorian Society’s [rival] planning application.

‘Their scheme would preserve the Victorian heritage of the market while creating an urban centre of food markets, restaurants and cafes [run by Eric Reynold’s Urban Space Management]. This is an exciting and historically sensitive alternative to Henderson’s radical redevelopment of the market into office blocks.’

McAslan’s proposals were called in by communities secretary Eric Pickles last September (see below) after winning planning from the City of London in July 2013.

It is the second time a major scheme for the decaying central London market site has been scrutinised at public inquiry.

Six years ago KPF’s controversial proposal to flatten the buildings and replace them with a huge office scheme was thrown out by communities secretary Hazel Blears.

Defending his scheme last month, John McAslan said the proposed development would give ‘the old and the new a living and enduring future.’ 

Previous story (AJ 04.09.13)

McAslan’s Smithfield revamp called in

John McAslan + Partners’ contentious £160 million Smithfield Market overhaul has been called in by the secretary of state

Communities secretary Eric Pickles will decide the future of the scheme after deeming the redevelopment to concern ‘matters of substantial regional and national controversy.’

The inquiry is expected to focus on the mixed-use scheme’s compliance with the local plan and NPPF policies on good design and conserving the historic environment.

McAslan’s scheme – involving partial demolition of Victorian buildings to create 5,700m² of shops and 21,220m² of office space – won planning from the City of London in July.

Almost a dozen bodies objected to the Henderson Global Investors-backed project, including the Twentieth Century Society, SPAB, Islington Council and SAVE Britain’s Heritage which submitted a petition with the names of almost 2,700 people opposed to the redevelopment.

A previous scheme for the site by KPF, which would have obliterated the existing buildings, was also approved (see AJ 06.05.2006) at planning committee before being famously thrown out by communities secretary Hazel Blears in 2008.

A spokesperson for developer Henderson said: ‘Henderson’s conservation led planning application for the largely disused buildings in West Smithfield is the only realistic, viable and funded scheme which can bring these historic buildings back into use and deliver a proper long term sustainable balance of redevelopment, restoration and retention.

‘This balanced approach has been supported by the City of London, English Heritage, the GLA and CABE as it retains the vast majority of the existing Victorian market buildings and brings them back into viable use.’

Clem Cecil of SAVE said: ‘We’re delighted, it shows the significance of the buildings that the secretary of state has decided to call it in a second time. We are delighted there will be a fair forum for the discussion.’

Cecil claimed the latest twist proved the buildings – which failed to win statutory protection from demolition because they were bombed damaged – should now be listed.

The SAVE director called on the inquiry to consider claims the City of London had overlooked the planning inspector’s 2008 recommendations in approving the McAslan scheme.

She said: ‘The inspector [in 2008] concluded the buildings could be preserved and become a new Spitalfields or Covent Garden and that they should be put on the open market to allow conservation-led scheme to come forward.

She continued: ‘The City of London never put it on the open market. [Therefore] it is unfounded to say this is the only viable scheme because no other scheme has come forward. This is why we need this fair forum.’


Previous story (16.07.13)

Contentious Smithfield market plans approved

Controversial plans to overhaul London’s Smithfield Market by John McAslan + Partners have been approved, despite a raft of objections

The scheme to regenerate and partially demolish the Victorian market block and create 5,700m² of shops and 21,220m² of office space was given the green light by the City of London’s planning committee earlier today (16 July).

Almost a dozen bodies objected to the Henderson Global Investors-backed project, including the Twentieth Century Society, SPAB, Islington Council and SAVE Britain’s Heritage which submitted a petition with the names of almost 2,700 people opposed to the redevelopment.

There were also objections from the Smithfield Trust and the Council for British Archaeology. The Greater London Authority added that it was unconvinced the scheme complied with the London Plan.

However the City’s committee agreed with its planning officers’ recommendations, voted 19-2 in favour of the plans.

Geoff Harris, director of property development at Henderson, said: ‘[We have] spent more than two and a half years working and consulting with English Heritage, City of London planners and local residents and stakeholders to design a scheme that meets the needs of a growing City, while at the same time appreciating the heritage that has shaped it.  

‘The scheme will bring active and vibrant uses back to Smithfield and provide a valuable retail and restaurant offer to local residents and workers. 

‘Horace Jones’ Smithfield was a City landmark in the 1800s and the Henderson plans approved today will help restore it to the destination that it once was. This vision for Smithfield preserves its past while guaranteeing its future.’

The application was passed on the condition that McAslan would revise the scheme around Hart’s Corner. Committee member the Reverend Martin Dudley, who voted for the scheme, suggested rebuilding the original turret that had been destroyed by a bomb in 1945.

A previous scheme for the site by KPF, which would have obliterated the existing buildings, was also approved (see AJ 06.05.2006) at planning committee before being famously thrown out by communities secretary Hazel Blears in 2008.

Clem Cecil of SAVE said she was not surprised by the decision: ‘We were never going to win today - it would have been a miracle. The City is on a mission to be the financial centre of the universe and it fears losing its place if it doesn’t [allow every office scheme] - even though it has an 8 per cent surplus.

‘But there is a long way to go and we feel there is a strong case for a public enquiry.

‘Hopefully we will get a call-in. The secretary of state has already said that he wanted to see all the documentation if it won planning. So Whitehall is interested.’

Enabling works on the McAslan proposal are set to begin next year, with full construction starting in 2015.

Previous story (AJ 08.07.2013)

Contentious Smithfield market plans touted for approval

Controversial plans to overhaul London’s Smithfield Market by John McAslan + Partners are set to be approved, despite a raft of objections from leading industry voices

The scheme to regenerate and partially demolish the Victorian market block,creating 5,700m² of shops and 21,220m² of office space, has been recommended for approval by the City of London ahead of a planning committee meeting next Tuesday (16 July 2013).

The authority’s planning officers said that while ‘some harm’ would result should the scheme for Henderson Global Investors was given the green light, this would be outweighed by the public benefit and felt the proposals would safeguard the future of ‘the most significant elements’ of the historic buildings.

However almost a dozen bodies have objected including the Twentieth Century Society, SPAB, Islington Council and SAVE Britain’s Heritage which submitted a petition with the names of almost 2,700 people opposed to the project.

As well as the Victorian Society, which complained that the plans were contrary to the NPPF and would cause ‘significant harm’ to the surrounding Smithfield Conservation Area, there were also objections from the Smithfield Trust, Council for British Archaeology.

Crossrail was also concerned that the scheme would ‘seriously prejudice the use of the basement’ of the site which is being used as part of the construction of the nearby Farringdon station.

English Heritage said it would not be objecting to the scheme - a stance which outraged both the Victorian Society and SAVE earlier this year (see below).

Previous story (AJ 15.04.2013)

English Heritage hits back at Smithfield market ‘u-turn’ claims

English Heritage (EH) has dismissed allegations that it has ‘failed in its duty’ by backing controversial plans to overhaul London’s Smithfield Market

Last week SAVE Britain’s Heritage condemned EH for throwing its weight behind John McAslan + Partners’ contentious scheme which would see parts of the Victorian market block flattened (see full SAVE statement attached).

Five years ago EH, alongside SAVE vigorously objected to proposals by KPF for the plot alongside SAVE, prompting the campaign group to accuse the quango of ‘a volte face’ (see below).

However a spokesman for EH has hit back, maintaining that the new plan for Henderson Global Investors marked ‘a fundamentally different approach’ to the proposals by KPF which was thrown out by the secretary of state Hazel Blears in 2008.

The statement reads: ‘It should be remembered that EH and SAVE were opposing a very different scheme at the 2008 public inquiry. That scheme proposed the total demolition of the General Market Building and the interior of the Annex Market and replacement with a new building that was entirely out of character with the area. It was a substantially larger scheme than the current one and would have resulted in a much more substantial loss of historic buildings at this site.

‘The current proposal….unites long-term sustainable restoration with the re-use of the Smithfield Western Market Buildings. We have emphasised that an appropriate balance between restoration and new development must be found to ensure the long-term, economically viable regeneration of [these buildings].

‘Reaching this balance will always be a contentious issue, but the suggestion that English Heritage has failed in its duty is wrong. It would have been a failure on our part not to recognise the increasingly urgent need for a realistic viable scheme that optimised the conservation of this site.’

It continues: ‘The condition of the General Market Building means that long-term viable re-use requires additional subsidy. One way of producing this subsidy is through new development. Alongside some new development, the proposals put forward by Henderson propose the retention and repair of the most significant elements of the historic market buildings. 

‘After decades of neglect, much work is needed to restore these significant historic structures: these proposals represent a realistic long term plan to bring the redundant Victorian buildings back into viable use. While it is true that the scale and height of the new office floors will result in moderate harm to the conservation area in certain views, these proposals have the potential to deliver economic, social and heritage benefits and it is these elements which the City of London Corporation must now balance.’

An official decision by the City of London Corporation is not expected until the summer (2013).

Previous story (AJ 11.04.2013)

McAslan’s Smithfield plans win English Heritage backing

English Heritage has thrown its weight behind John McAslan + Partners’ contentious proposals to redevelop Smithfield Market

The conservation body said it supported the planning application for project backers Henderson Global Investors which would see elements of the historic market pulled down and replaced with a retail and office-led scheme.

In a letter to the City of London’s planning department, English Heritage (see attached) said the plans represented a ‘realistic long-term proposal’ to bring the Victorian buildings back into a viable use.

The letter reads: ‘We are persuaded that an amout of new development on the site is required. [The] repair costs associated with the large size and very poor condition of the buildings, added to the need to repair the tunnel structures beneath part of the site, mean that long term viability is unlikely to be achieved without additional subsidy.’

Letter writer, Michael Dunn, English Heritage’s principal inspector of historic buildings said: ‘Although the new development at the centre of the General Market Building will result in the loss of elements of moderate interest (the 1960s concrete dome, the timber roof and parts of the of the interiror of the market hall), this needs to be balanced against the benefits through the proposed repair and restoration of most of the richly decorated red brick perimeter buildings, which are the most significant elements on the site.’

However SAVE Britain’s Heritage, which has been campaigning to keep the threat of bulldozers away from the market for a second time (see below), said English Heritage’s letter marked ‘a shocking volte face’.

According to the conservation lobby group, English Heritage had been ‘one of the chief bodies opposing demolition’ when the previous plans to flatten and replace the market by KPF had been lodged six years ago.

David Cooper, the solicitor who acted for SAVE in the subsequent 2008 public inquiry, said: ‘At the public inquiry English Heritage were totally opposed to any scheme that didn’t retain the buildings particularly their magnificent glass roofs. Their response to the Henderson proposals doesn’t fulfil the inspector’s conclusions in any shape manner or form. 

‘Their position is a complete volte face without any justification at all.’

Previous story (AJ 14.11.2013)

Battle for Smithfield: developer hits back at SAVE criticism

The developer behind the contentious proposals to redevelop Smithfield Market has said he is ‘baffled and saddened’ by SAVE Britain’s Heritage’s response

Last month SAVE’s Clem Cecil slammed the all-new proposals for the historic market drawn up by John McAslan + Partners, claiming they ‘merely nodded towards conservation’ and retained only elements of the ‘facade while sacrificing the roof structure’ (read SAVE’s full critique of the plans here).

However Geoff Harris, director of property development at Henderson Global Investors, has hit back at SAVE which today revealed its own rival plans (14 November) for the central London site. He said: ‘It seems that the facts about our proposals are being misrepresented.  We’ve adopted a balanced and pragmatic attitude to finding a solution to these buildings and it would appear that SAVE are not willing to consider our proposal with the same degree of pragmatism. 

SAVE are not willing to consider our proposal with the same degree of pragmatism

‘Henderson’s custodianship of these buildings, and the proposals that have been made by our team, have been created with care and in a collaborative approach with English Heritage and with the City of London planning authority over the last two and a half years.

He added: ‘Our proposals are a thorough and legitimate response to the challenges of putting these buildings back into long-term sustainable use, both in terms of heritage and in terms of the very real issue of commercial sense. It is not credible to imagine that a viable solution can be found by simply leaving the buildings as they are and without adding density.’

Henderson’s took over the scheme following the demise of developer Thornfield which had failed with an earlier, highly controversial office-led proposal drawn up by KPF. Before its collapse Thornfield hired John McAslan to look at a more sensitive plan in a bid to appease heritage groups which had objected to the wide-scale demolition proposed in the KPF plans (pictured below).

KPF’s rejected proposals (2008)

Harris added: ‘The key to our proposal is adding enough density without being excessive, and in a way that is sympathetic to retaining as much of the Victorian fabric as possible. We are proposing less than half the density of the scheme proposed in the previous [KPF] application that was submitted before our involvement in the buildings and no wholesale demolition of the Victorian buildings.

We are proposing less than half the density of the KPF scheme

‘I fear that a failure to recognise this reality, seemingly based upon a lack of understanding of what investment is needed to restore the existing buildings will condemn the buildings to remain as they are. A sustainable long term future that can be enjoyed by the surrounding community is not possible without significant investment.

He concluded: ‘It is alarmist and incorrect to suggest that our proposals put doubt into the safety of the famous meat market buildings to the Eastern side of Smithfield.  They do not. The actual buildings in our proposal sit on the Western end of Smithfield and have not had a proper use for over a decade, one has remained unused for much longer.’

John McAslan + Partners' proposals for Smithfield Market

John McAslan + Partners’ proposals for Smithfield Market

Henderson’s Global Investors rebuttal in full (and see attached)

1.    We are apparently “destroying the grandest parade of market buildings in Europe” according to SAVE.  Two of the buildings do not feature in the “parade” of buildings moving West to East.  For the third, the General Market building, it remains in place and the additions to the existing building have been designed to recognise the view from Holborn Viaduct.  To suggest that these original buildings are unimportant to us is not accurate.

The buildings that we are dealing with are not used by the meat trading activity of the area.  The actual buildings in question, those to which our proposals relate, have not had a proper use for in excess of a decade, one has remained unused for much longer Our proposals do not put doubt into the safety of the famous meat market buildings to the Eastern side of Smithfield.  It is alarmist and incorrect to suggest otherwise.

2.    SAVE apparently say about the General Market Building that our proposals “yet again propose its destruction, bar a token nod towards conservation”. Our proposals do not put forward wholesale demolition.  The proposal is for a mixed use scheme of which a significant part provides retail space configured to provide critical mass and a range of retail unit sizes that will offer space appropriate for independent retailers as well as multiples.  The addition of office space delivers the sustainability that mixed use development brings as well as the financial viability that is necessary to fund the renovation of the retained parts of the existing buildings.  

3.    New space in the General Market Building is arranged in 3 “blocks of space” that range between 2 and 4 storeys above ground floor.  The highest point of the design proposed for the General Market Building is within 1 metre of the adjacent poultry market roof.  SAVE’s suggestion that 20m is extreme, appears disingenuous.  Modern insertions are one of a number of recognised ways to ensure the viable restoration of old buildings in need of significant investment and being able to see them should not be assumed to be detrimental.  The task is to respect the contribution the buildings make to the conservation area. 

4.    “It’s another scoop-out job,” says Clem Cecil of Save Britain’s Heritage, referring to the common strategy of retaining the façade of an existing building and “mining out everything behind.”  Our proposals are not based upon façade retention, the intention is to retain and renovate the entirety of the Old Fish Market and the old Engine House, to renovate and put into proper use the vast majority of the perimeter buildings of the general market and to retain street facades to the Red House, a building that has no modern use available to it.  We keep the most important parts of the Red House facades and integrate them into the remodelled space. We remove an entirely underwhelming 1960’s corrugated metal warehouse element that sits between the Red House and the Old Fish Market and replace it with new commercial office space that works with the new retail uses that can then be delivered to the Old Fish Market and the ground floor space created within the Red House principal facades. For the General Market Building we remove the roof to what is currently an open internal space and reuse the original Victorian columns as well as reclaiming and reusing as much of the historic materials that we can.  The open market is replaced by two new public piazzas that are activated by the retail space and by public flows into this new civic space.  For the internal piazza natural light is introduced by atria that offer a modern interpretation of the original roof lights.   

5.    A lot of public perception of these Smithfield building is felt at pavement and street level, where pedestrian and traffic flows occur. For the General Market Building alone we retain and renovate entire swathes of the perimeter buildings, in the order of 300 metres of Victorian buildings along three streets in just this one building of the four that will be regenerated as part of the proposed scheme.  The street frontages to all buildings will deliver interest and activity through retail use and create interconnection with the internal spaces of the remodelled buildings.

6.    In the Guardian blog of 16 October Oliver Wainwright reports that  “it is also knee-capping the existing buildings: the entire ground floor will be replaced with glass, front and back, leaving the first floor floating in a strange parody: “a token nod towards conservation”, says Cecil.”  One can only assume that this comment refers to the General Market Building and in relation to indicative shop front design that is shown on our visualisation. This appears to show a lack of understanding of the design. For the parts of the General Market Building that front Farringdon Road, West Smithfield Street and Charterhouse Street, the columns that support the Victorian buildings are expressed at ground floor level of the principal elevations and are clearly visible right now should one walk the surrounding pavements. These columns are currently “in filled” with an assortment of shop fronts, some that reflect a traditional style of shop front, some much more underwhelming and that are later additions.  The heights of these existing shop fronts currently vary as they are determined by the changing levels of the pavements (some quite considerably).  The shop fronts that exist are non-structural and will probably historically have been chosen to suit the business of the retail unit occupier, hence their partially eclectic styling.  We are retaining the columns exactly as they exist at the moment and so there is no change in height of the ground floor treatment nor in spacing of the columns. We are yet to agree with the statutory consultative bodies how the shop fronts will be treated and it could be a range of styles though we expect them to be mainly traditional, and they will be installed as part of the renovation works in order to allow the approving bodies control of the final appearance of the ground floor shop fronts.   We think that the introduction of awnings that are in keeping with the history of the area will add more tradition though for now our visualisations are intended to demonstrate intent not final detailing. Our renders show a mixture of shop front types and are for indicative purposes right now.

7.    SAVE says that “the rendered image of the remodelled interior by McAslan is beguiling but plays fast and loose with the building’s historic elements and fittings”.  We really do not understand this comment as the Fish Market will be renovated to its original style, including the roof structure, and that is what the imagery shows.  For the General Market Building the visualisation of the internal space represents our current design and our intent to reuse as much of the historic elements as possible in a way that actually has a use that the public can enjoy within the two new piazza’s.

8.    “It’s all very pretty, but it’s just throwing sparkly dust in our eyes,” says Cecil. “Look closely and it’s just hashed-together conservation detailing.”  One can only assume that SAVE is looking at different design details to us, the historic parts that are retained are returned to their former detail and in significant portions.

9.    “SAVE believes that the site lends itself perfectly to re-use as it is. At present the late 19th-century market building has a beautiful roof structure of iron, wood and glass that lets natural light in and would serve as an elegant canopy for small shops and cafés as in Covent Garden.”  We wonder if SAVE has a proper understanding of the repairs that are necessary to the buildings in order for them to function properly and safely as these buildings require significant repair.  In the previous Public Inquiry, the Inspector acknowledged that the cost of repair alone made a full retention proposal unviable.

10. SAVE says “The scheme retains only elements of the facade while sacrificing the roof structure”.   Actually, the scheme retains the majority of the perimeter buildings that form the curtilage of the General Market, the entirety of the Fish Market and the toilet block and the principal elevations of the Red House.  It is accurate that the roof structure to the existing general market central area is removed but not the roof structure to the Fish Market.   The majority of the chimneys are retained and put into use.

11. “The opportunity to create a fantastic public space at Smithfield has been overlooked by the City Corporation that appears happy to see the market sold off piecemeal.” according to SAVE.   It is for the City to speak for itself but in our experience their intellectual rigour has been of the highest order throughout our work with them over the last few years.  We are concerned with only the western buildings that make up Smithfield; the others that form the meat trading market are in active use and are unaffected.  Our proposals do offer fantastic public space that is not currently available in any case.

12. We remain committed to the preservation of as much of the historic content as we believe feasible.


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