Friday, 28 December 2007

Row hots up over vision for market

Lawyers attack expert witness evidence at public inquiry into future of Smithfield

Reputations were on the line as two competing visions for the future of the ancient Smithfield market clashed at an increasingly heated public inquiry.

Star witnesses, including architect Sir Terry Farrell and the entrepreneur founder of Camden Market, Eric Reynolds, appeared on Friday to give evidence to the planning inspector charged with deciding the fate of the Victorian market arcade which developers and the City of London Corporation say must be demolished.

The resulting grilling left Mr Reynolds reeling under charges that his evidence was “meaningless drivel” and his vaunted business acumen was “irrelevant”.
The walls of the South Bank inquiry room are emblazoned with images of the glass and bronze office and shopping centre that developers Thornfield plc wants to build in place of the currently derelict General Market Building.

But challenger English Heritage, which claims the plans were cooked up in secret between Thornfield and the City with an eye on profits and no regard for the market’s historic fabric, envisages a regenerated market of small stalls and independent traders and called Sir Terry and Mr Reynolds to put the architectural and business case.

Sir Terry, whose celebrated portfolio includes the Swiss Cottage leisure centre and the TV-AM building in Camden, said the “concentration and variety of historic fabric in the Smithfield area makes it one of the most important historic areas in London”.

The Thornfield plans would “dramatically diminish both the character and extent of the distinctive market complex”, while English Heritage plans could “draw people in from near and far,” he added.

But while opponents challenged his view without questioning his qualifications, lawyers for Thornfield savagely attacked the standing of English Heritage’s second expert witness, Eric Reynolds.

Mr Reynolds, whose expertise in regenerating London markets was forged in the creation of Camden Market in 1974 and has been repeated at Spitalfields and Chelsea, produced a business plan for English Heritage in which he claimed that the existing Smithfield buildings could be retained and converted into a thriving attraction bringing in £2.5 million a year in rent.

But Thornfield barrister David Forsdick questioned him on his qualifications and attacked his figures, forcing him to concede that he had never invested substantial amounts of his own cash or that of his business Urban Space Management in any of the projects in his portfolio.

Mr Forsdick said: “What money did you invest in Camden Lock?”
“Something over 20 years of my life,” replied Mr Reynolds. “Money?”, repeated Mr Forsdick. “Very little,” said Mr Reynolds.
“You obviously haven’t got the expertise in qualification terms to give us a valuation,” concluded Mr Forsdick.

The Thornfield lawyer’s attack on English Heritage’s witnesses – he said he was “absolutely gobsmacked” by “the most astonishingly bad behaviour for a public body” in putting forward Mr Reynolds’s unsupported “assertions” – was matched earlier by English Heritage, whose barrister called the evidence of the City of ­London’s chief planner ­“nonsense” and “perverse”.

Grilled by QC Robert McCracken on why the Thornfield plan contained no housing, as required by law, City planning chief Peter Wynne Rees was forced to list reasons why Farringdon was unsuitable for new residents.

“It is far from an ideal site for housing because of the busy road and night-time economy,” Mr Rees said. “There is large-scale urination and vomiting in the streets outside, which is already a problem for the market and is threatening the viability of the meat market.”

The public inquiry will conclude in the new year when planning inspector Ken Barton makes a recommendation on the site to government.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

English Heritage defends architect’s ‘speculative’ plans for meat market

English Heritage claimed this week that archtiect Sir Terry Farrell’s plans for the redevelopment of London’s Smithfield meat market were ‘speculative’, and that it wanted the building to be saved.

Property Week has obtained a copy of the ‘secret plans’ that have angered the meat traders during the public inquiry into developer Thornfield Properties’ plans to redevelop the western end of the market into 380,000 sq ft of offices.

Farrell, who was asked by English Heritage two years ago to look at what made the Smithfield area ‘special’, has drawn up a plan that clearly shows a redevelopment of the entire market, not just the western end, which makes no provision for the wholesale meat market.

Paddy Pugh, English Heritage director for the London region, said: ‘All of this has become extremely muddled and has been used by the applicants [Thornfield] to stir up the traders. Farrell’s plan is not a masterplan. We are not in any position to suggest a masterplan. Farrell wasn’t asked to look at individual buildings but to look at the whole area.

‘Architects look at all sorts of ideas and one of the things that he did at that time was to speculate what would happen if the City of London was to close down the market.’

Pugh said the future of Smithfield had long been questioned. Both the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and London mayor Ken Livingstone recently speculated on its viability.

‘They have both said that in the long term it makes no sense for a wholesale meat market to be in the London area,’ said Pugh. ‘We would never want to see Smithfield close and we have no means to close down the market – only the City [of London] can do that. But we oppose Thornfield’s plans as we don’t want to see a change of that area to office use.’

The inquiry will run until January. The first phase ended last Friday when Thornfield completed its submission. English Heritage will present its evidence during the second stage in two weeks’ time and will present six expert witnesses.

Pugh said Eric Reynolds, founder of regeneration company Urban Space Management, would show that repairing the western buildings to create an urban market, similar to Camden Lock, was a viable option.

Thornfield managing director Mike Capocci said he would continue with its Kohn Pedersen Fox-designed plans. ‘It would be easy to say: let’s put up a block of flats and tart it all up. But the City doesn’t want that and the community doesn’t want that.’

Thursday, 8 November 2007

A media complex in Smithfield Market

This is the secret English Heritage plan for a media complex in Smithfield Market. It was drawn up by the architect that they commisioned to look at the area, Terry Farrell.

On the day that the public inquiry into proposals to regenerate the western edge of Smithfield (the disused and unlisted General Market Building) the Smithfield butchers have held a demonstration against English Heritage, the public body opposing the development. The butchers say that they have seen secret plans drawn up by the leading architect, Terry Farrell, to replace a functioning and thriving meat market with a media complex. Terry Farrell was commissioned by English Heritage to look at the meat market and the surrounding area.

Greg Lawrence, Chairman, Smithfield Market Tenants Association, said:

"It is completely perplexing that English Heritage is opposing what is an excellent development that will uplift the area and protect the meat market when they have failed to list the General Market Building on five occasions. The General Market Building, not part of today's thriving meat market, is a derelict eyesore in our opinion and Thornfield's proposals will make a real contribution to Smithfield.

"It is also perplexing that having opposed the regeneration of a run down area, English Heritage then get their architect to have a look at a future for the market that doesn't have the meat traders at its heart. They didn't even have the courtesy to consult us at any point. Let me be clear, we are opposed to any proposal that moves the meat market away from its historical home, Smithfield. That is why we support Thornfield Properties regeneration of the area and strongly oppose English Heritage's plans to see a media complex replace the meat market."

Michael Capocci, Chief Executive, Thornfield Properties plc, said:

"It is the easiest thing in the world to argue that these disused buildings should be given a lick of paint and reopened but it is just not possible. What you can't see on the surface is that the Thameslink rail tunnels form part of the building and these tunnels are in need of repair. It is the liability of the building owner to undertake these mulit-million pound repairs and it can't realistically be done technically or financially without demolishing the building."

"So any argument that just ignores the tunnels and pretends that they don't exist is just not credible. Moreover, any suggestion that a patch-up job can be undertaken is not credible either. This building actually forms a key part of London's transport infrastructure, Thameslink, and that is why Network Rail and Crossrail support our proposal. Our proposals make an exceptional contribution to Smithfield architecturally and it terms of regeneration and we have seen no credible alternatives."

Friday, 2 November 2007

Smithfield's future hanging in the balance

A Public inquiry into the future of some of London’s most priceless buildings opens on Tuesday next week.

The three buildings, which once formed part of the world-famous Smithfield meat market, are threatened with demolition as part of the redevelopment of this desirable area on the fringe of the City district.

The controversy surrounds proposals to demolish the attractive General Market building and most of the Annexe Market.

These characterful and historic properties, which belong to the City of London Corporation, are due to make way for new, high-rise glass and steel office buildings similar to those overshadowing much of the City of London.

The CLC’s argument in favour of demolition is based on several factors including the cost of repairs, public safety and convenience, the lack of a practical alternative and other arguments. The General Market is not a listed building due to the fact that, following damage in the Second World War, it lost its old towers and the subsequent restoration was inexact.

Paddy Pugh, regional director of English Heritage which is opposing the redevelopment, said: “The General Market falls just short of being listable by a fraction because it took some war damage and was not rebuilt like for like. Even so it is a building that makes a positive contribution to the general character of the area.”

Also on the danger list is the Annexe Market, about which a similar argument could be made. This has the potential to be transformed into a unique residential and retail environment which would be an added attraction to the local area. Inside the Annexe Market and still visible by peering through its coverings is a collection of ‘inner’ houses covered by a cast-iron roofing and separated by narrow ‘streets’. Indeed, the Annexe Market was called The Village by traders who used it.

The last of the three buildings under threat is one of the world’s earliest cold stores. This is no ordinary fridge, not even by American standards.

The Red House is a Grade II listed building and therefore, under the CLC proposals, the façade will be retained. The interior, however, will be demolished and a new glass and steel ‘intervention’ structure will be installed, rising above the existing highly decorative Baroque façade and, in the view of Mr Pugh, at an inappropriate height.

English Heritage has appointed the DPP planning consultancy as one of six expert witnesses to oppose the redevelopment by Thornfield Properties. The founder of Urban Space Management, Eric Reynolds, an expert in the subject, is one of the witnesses.

Reynolds has been involved in the successful redevelopment of similar London market and community areas including Spitalfields and Camden Lock.

English Heritage will also be calling renowned architect Sir Terry Farrell. The body has created a small exhibition
explaining the history with visuals of the desired redevelopment.

Arguably the loss of these buildings could set a precedent for the future of the Smithfield market building itself. The
markets in fish, fruit and flowers have all left central London for more suitable venues on the outskirts. Large goods vehicles pose less of a problem in such outposts and at Smithfield, such traffic is arguably an
undesirable side-effect of the meat market whose sustainability has been called into question by Defra.

At the same time Smithfield’s contribution to the special character of the area is unquestionable. This character is deeply rooted in history with buildings such as Abbey Church, which dates as far back as the Conquest. St Bartholomew’s Hospital is another medieval institution of venerable repute while the Smithfield market itself is a great 19th-century structure of sturdy Victorian design.

The entire area around Smithfield has in fact seen a spontaneous regeneration over the past 10 years and is now packed with small and often creative workshops and outlets such as fashion designers, unique local shops and
interesting restaurants such as the classic Smiths café opposite the meat market and located in a former warehouse.

Mr Pugh said: “The new Crossrail link will make the area even more desirable, which is good, but together with the
constant outward push of the City, which is very much in evidence in the Liverpool Street area, if we are not careful we will see an extension of the monoculture of office buildings which could inflict huge damage on the area.” The exhibition, which is open to the public, presents the alternative. Images of the proposed restored buildings are displayed together with a film voicing the concerns of local people who love the area as well as the architectural fraternity.

The most eloquent warning came from George Ferguson, a former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, who said: “Smithfield is a wonderful, vibrant area with a lot of independent businesses and that great tradition of markets which still imbues the area with so much activity. The march of the City office blocks over Farringdon Road is a very dangerous march.”

Friday, 26 October 2007

Smithfield’s Bloody Battle

Developers and conservationists are about to clash over plans to demolish part of London’s historic meat market.

On 6 November a public inquiry will begin into plans to demolish a large part of London’s historic Smithfield meat market to make way for 350,000 sq ft of offices.

The inquiry will pit developer Thornfield against English Heritage and the campaign group Save Britain’s Heritage, as well as several smaller conservation groups. It is likely to stretch into January.

The stakes are high. Thornfield managing director Mike Capocci says his development will cost £175m to build and has taken seven years to get this far.

The scheme has been through three incarnations, all designed by Lee Polisano, founding partner of architect Kohn Pedersen Fox. The latest version (opposite, above) was approved in principle by the City of London in April. However, the application was called in by the government in June 2006 and the final decision will be taken by the planning minister, advised by planning inspector Ken Barton, next summer.

Capocci is eager to get to work, and says the developer is already arranging the demolition contracts. Thornfield owns the site on a 1,000-year lease from the City of London. Capocci says that, even if permission for this scheme is refused, the developer will simply come back with another. ‘We have staying power and commitment,’ he says. ‘We have a good case and we are not going to go away.’

The central issue is whether the existing buildings, which date back to the 1880s and form part of the wider Smithfield conservation area, can be preserved or should be demolished. For the most part they are empty or derelict, but English Heritage and its supporters say they could easily be restored and put to a mixture of retail and leisure uses.

Capocci argues that a restoration would not be commercially viable and that the buildings would not work as a leisure and retail destination in any case.

Much of the inquiry will centre on engineering questions. Busy railway lines pass beneath the existing buildings. Thornfield says the tunnels are in poor condition and in urgent need of repair. The railway was there before the building was laid over the top, so the building’s owner, not the train operator, is responsible for maintaining the tunnels.

Capocci argues that a high-density development with plenty of lettable space would be needed to cover the cost of repairing the tunnels. The presence of the railway has therefore had a big influence on the density and massing of Thornfield’s scheme.

‘You have to create a building that has sufficient volume to create the value and pay for these exceptional costs that wouldn’t occur in a normal building,’ says Capocci.

In many ways, Thornfield’s building is designed more like a suspension bridge than an office building. Foundations would be laid in the gaps between the railway lines to support two huge structural beams. These would hold up a vast deck, from which the rest of the building would hang.

‘It is significantly more expensive to do it that way,’ confirms Capocci. ‘But we have to deal with the tunnels. We have come up with a scheme that we are proud of.’

Thornfield proposes to erect a second, smaller office building within the walls of the listed cold store and old market buildings next to the main building.

Capocci says: ‘This is not just an office scheme,’ pointing out that there will be bars and cafes on the ground-floor sections at the rear of the main building.

Conservation concerns
English Heritage will focus its arguments on the fact that the scheme lies within a conservation area. It will say Thornfield has ignored basic planning rules that prohibit demolition until the owners of buildings in such areas can prove the sites cannot be used in their existing form.

‘There has been no serious attempt to market these buildings as they are,’ says Steven Bee, director of planning and development at English Heritage.

‘If that had been done, there would have been a number of people who would have been interested in taking them on.’

One of English Heritage’s star witnesses at the inquiry will be Eric Reynolds, the managing director of Urban Space Management, who played a key role in the rejuvenation of Spitalfields and Borough markets in London. Reynolds will argue that the Smithfields site could be put to similar use without destroying the existing buildings.

English Heritage believes that the last thing Smithfield needs is a large new office block.

‘It is a very diverse area and we think it is important to introduce uses that reinforce that diversity,’ says Bee. ‘There is scope for retail, restaurant and similar uses that would allow the public to use that building as a market.’

Lines of enquiry
Bee dismisses Capocci’s argument that high-density development is needed to cover the cost of renewing the canopy over the railway lines.

First, English Heritage will argue that this is the site owner’s problem and should not be a material consideration for the planners. It will also argue that the City of London should be held to account for allowing the buildings to fall into decay before selling the site to Thornfield.

Second, and perhaps contradictorily, English Heritage has commissioned its own engineering study that it says shows that the tunnels could be repaired relatively cheaply if the existing building were preserved.

‘It is only because such a large building is proposed over the top that such a substantial reconstruction of those walls on either side of the railway would be necessary,’ says Bee. ‘If you kept the existing building, you could repair rather than completely rebuild the substructure.’

This analysis is contradicted by Thornfield, which will present its own engineers’ reports.

‘The tunnels need urgent attention,’ says Capocci. ‘You can’t do anything with the tunnels unless you take the majority of the building down. We have demonstrated without question that a new building needs to be put there, because you can’t viably retain the old one.’

English Heritage will be aided at the inquiry by Save Britain’s Heritage, the conservation group that campaigned successfully for part of the Smithfield site to be listed in 2004. The group agrees with English Heritage that the existing site could be preserved and used for leisure and retail.

‘We believe a far more sensitive scheme could be put together for the site, which would respect the character of the area and carry on the revival that has gone on in the last 15 to 20 years, rather than just plonking down a great big office block,’ says Adam Wilkinson, secretary of Save Britain’s Heritage .

It will be for the inspector and the secretary of state to disentangle the arguments about whether Thornfield has any choice but to demolish and start again. In the meantime, the battle lines are drawn.