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SAVE demands goverment steps in to rescue Smithfield

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SAVE Britain’s Heritage has demanded Eric Pickles begin compulsory purchase of Smithfield Market to save it from ‘deliberate neglect’

The conservation organisation’s president Marcus Binney has written to the secretary of state praising him for throwing out John McAslan’s contentious plans to redevelop the Victorian landmark earlier this year, but has urged him to step in to stop the building from rotting.

In the letter Binney said he was ‘somewhat dismayed’ by the ‘response from the City [of London] and the owners [Henderson Global Investors] and indeed English Heritage’ for their lack of urgency over the future of the building which has been in doubt since the result of the public inquiry in July.

The organisation wants the goverment to begin compulsory purchase proceedings to stop ‘the deliberate neglect of an important heritage asset’ and that it would be in the ‘public interest’ to repair and regenerate the Smithfield General Market Buildings rather than let them stand empty.

Last week it emerged that Prince Charles had backed the campaigners who successfully battled against McAslan’s controversial £160million office-led for the market.

Eric Reynolds, who drew up rival conservation-led proposals to save the Victorian market, confirmed the heir to the throne had been supportive throughout and that he had written a letter stating his joy after Pickles officially rejected the significant overhaul of the existing blocks (see below).

Henderson refused to comment on the letter.

Letter in full

Dear Eric Pickles,

Smithfield General Market Buildings.

Following your decision letter we have waited to write until the time limit for judicial review has passed. Now it has, we wish to state our appreciation to you and Mr Boles for an exceptionally cogent and well-worded decision letter, which sets out your views with such care, rigour and forcefulness.

We have however been somewhat dismayed by the response from the City and the owners, and indeed English Heritage, none of whom appear to attach any urgency to the matter. This is all the more serious in view of the deliberate neglect, which you identified. The building remains vulnerable as winter approaches, particularly as the roof over the canopy across the street has been removed.

The purpose of this letter is therefore to ask you to set in motion compulsory purchase proceedings on the following grounds.

1.    The deliberate neglect of an important heritage asset.
2.    A stated intention on the part of the owners to do nothing if they did not get the planning permission they were seeking.
3.    That it is in the public interest that the Smithfield General Market Buildings should be repaired and regenerated.

We consider that an initial letter from you stating an intention to do this would have a salutary effect and might prompt action and decisions which otherwise may take months or years to achieve. As you know, we have both a viable alternative scheme, as the inspector accepted, and the investors with resources to finance it

Yours sincerely,

Marcus Binney
 Executive President


Previous story (AJ 11.09.14)

Prince Charles supported anti-McAslan Smithfield lobby

Prince Charles backed campaigners who successfully battled against John McAslan’s contentious plans to redevelop Smithfield Market in central London, it has emerged

Eric Reynolds, who drew up rival conservation-led proposals to save the Victorian market, confirmed the heir to the throne had been supportive throughout and that he had written a letter stating his joy after communities secretary Eric Pickles rejected the significant overhaul of the existing building in July.

McAslan’s scheme was subject to a planning inquiry in February and was contested by a gaggle of objectors including design-savvy developer Cathedral, SAVE Britain’s Heritage and the Victorian Society.

However Reynolds, who runs Urban Space Management, insisted His Royal Highness has not subverted the planning process and that he was not an active member of any group which campaigned against the ‘destructive’ scheme put forward by Henderson Global Investors.

He told the AJ: ‘Unfairly, Prince Charles is attacked in a cartoonish way. But he hasn’t interfered [in the process]. He hasn’t gone to Eric Pickles.

‘He is simply, as we all are, a subject of the realm and is interested in maintaining things that are good.

‘His support has been in the background. He is genuinely concerned about our cultural heritage.’

Reynolds said that Prince Charles had been involved with trying to save Smithfield in 2007 when the first major plans for the site by KPF - which were also thrown out following a public inquiry - were rolled out. His Royal Highness made a personal visit to the market then.

He also recalls how he and Prince Charles tried to get the derelict blocks cleaned up before the 2012 London Olympics, but that the calls fell on deaf ears.

Reynolds added: ‘At a garden party in 2012 me and Prince Charles suggested to then Lord Mayor Michael Bear that, in the Olympic year the buildings should at least be cleaned up. [Bear] was very polite - but it didn’t happen.’

Talking about the planning inquiry and the decision to reject McAlsan’s scheme for 5,700m² of shops and 21,220m² of offices due to its potentially ‘extremely harmful effect’ on the market he said: ‘The real hero here is the planning inspector. He looked at all the evidence in a really balanced way.

‘If we lose this building we are never going to replace them. A Westfield-like centre is not a replacement for a wonderful, airy Victorian market hall.’

In terms of the future plans it is understood the Prince’s Regeneration Trust have been approached to become more involved with the site - but it seems unlikely a meeting with the current development team will happen.

Reynolds added: ‘Hendersons are saying and not very politely we should push off.

‘But it is the Corporation of London that is really central to everything. They are the freeholder.’

Henderson refused to comment.

Previous story (AJ 16.07.14)

City rebuked over Smithfield stance

Campaigners who successfully fought proposals to redevelop Smithfield Market have rebuked the City of London Corporation for attacking Eric Pickles’ decision to refuse the scheme

Last week the communities secretary said John McAslan & Partners’ plans to convert the market into 5,700m² of shops and 21,220m² of offices would have an ‘extremely harmful effect’ on the market’s listed and non-listed buildings, and that the structures’ current dilapidated state could be attributed to a ‘history of deliberate neglect’.

The scheme, created for Henderson Global Investors, had been granted planning permission by the City of London Corporation last year and its chairman of policy and resources Mark Boleat has now slammed Pickles as ‘ridiculous’ for questioning the need for new office space in the area as part of his decision.

Clem Cecil, director of campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said it was ‘sad’ that the corporation could not accept the decision ‘with good grace’.

‘As we discovered when we were looking into the lease structure for the market buildings, the corporation remains largely unaccountable and it is rare that they are ordered at the highest level of state to rethink their plans,’ she said.

‘The significance of the decision from the secretary of state is that sometimes policy protecting heritage carries more weight than other local policy – for example that for building more offices.

‘This is a rare boost for the heritage sector, where the mantra in recent years, and as seen in English Heritage’s support of the Henderson scheme, is that the coin has to lead.”

Cecil said the corporation had ‘ignored’ former communities secretary Hazel Blears’ 2008 decision on earlier proposals for Smithfield, which had called for the site to be placed on the open market to encourage conservation-led schemes to come forward.

‘If the corporation had heeded that decision, the expense of this recent inquiry, that Mark Boleat laments, could easily have been avoided,’ she said.

‘SAVE Britain’s Heritage, USM, Cathedral, the Victorian Society and all those who are cheering this brave decision from the secretary of state, are holding a long-term view.

‘We too want what is best for London, and believe that can happen through regenerating the treasures that we already have. 

‘We hope that the City of London Corporation will swallow its pride and anticipate the praise they will surely receive from Londoners and visitors to the capital for generations to come if they put their back into implementing the secretary of state’s decision for these important buildings.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • John Kenneth Galbraith, ‘The Economic and Social Returns of Preservation’, in: ed. National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation: Toward an Ethic in the 1980s, Preservation Press, Washington DC, 1980, p.57:

    “The preservation movement has one great curiosity. There is never any retrospective controversy or regret. Preservationists are the only people in the world who are invariably confirmed in their wisdom after the fact.”

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