A Tale of Two Cities? The battle over Smithfield Market continues

Aurora Horwood

When it comes to the battle over Smithfield Market and the competing claims of heritage vs development, who decides?

This week London must have felt like a tale of two cities for Henderson Global Investors.  On Tuesday Henderson secured planning consent from the City of London for their Leadenhall Triangle scheme – dubbed Gotham City by some.  But it seems that Batman doesn’t fit so well with the stone columns and mansard roofs of the Victorian-era Smithfield Market.

This Friday sees the end of the public inquiry over Henderson’s plans to redevelop the fish, fruit and vegetable market of Smithfield, in Farringdon, into a £160m office and retail complex after the plans were called in by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

The plans have been opposed by SAVE – Save Britain’s Heritage – and the Victorian Society who argue the proposals would ruin the heritage and character of the site.  They are proposing alternative plans to refurbish the existing market to make it into the new Spitalfields or Covent Garden, the viability of which has been supported by evidence drawn up by the Cathedral Group.  Countering this, Henderson has said its Smithfield Quarter plan retains 75% of the listed buildings designed by Sir Horace Jones – who gave us the iconic Tower Bridge.

Both sides have made a strong case, but while Save and the Victorian Society may have celebrity support, from the likes of Alan Bennett and Kristin Scott Thomas, it seems the odds are in favour of Henderson as far as general public opinion is concerned.  According to a YouGov poll 54% of those questioned believe the Smithfield Quarter scheme should go ahead, with just 17% against.  Meanwhile, 56% of respondents said the scheme would improve the area and just 9% said it would change the area for the worse.

The contentious nature of the planning application and resulting battle between the two sides brings up the dichotomy which faces much development.  That is, the need to preserve the UK’s heritage while at the same time encouraging progress and regeneration.

It is this which has meant that even the combined support of English Heritage, the City of London, Mayor of London, CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment), the Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association and local MP Mark Field has not guaranteed planning permission for Henderson.  Whatever the outcome, ultimately, the future of Smithfield Market lies with Mr Pickles and the government.

Smithfield Market London planning debate blog
Photo: Steve Parker

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