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.”