Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Developer may 'sit on' Smithfield site

The future of Smithfield market is in doubt after it emerged that Henderson’s lease on the buildings does not expire until 2020 and that the developer may decide to hold on to the site until then.

The developer, whose redevelopment of the site was rejected by the secretary of state yesterday, also has a 999-year lease on the basement, putting it in a strong position to carry out its threat to leave the site in Farringdon empty.

It currently rents out the basement to Crossrail, which uses it as part of the neighbouring construction site, and BD understands this brings in enough money to cover its costs.

But president of campaign group Save, Marcus Binney, accused Henderson of having a “real sulky dog attitude” and threatened to get a repairs order served on them.

“It’s a very unfriendly thing to do to London which shouldn’t have boarded-up sites looking little better than bombsites just because people won’t use or relinquish buildings.

“It’s been through the entire planning system and a public inquiry and the inspector ruled that there had been deliberate neglect.

“This is not a responsible way to deal with a heritage asset and if necessary we’ll press for a repairs order to be served on them.”

Chris Costelloe, director of the Victorian Sociey, said he was hopeful that “reason and rationality will win” and that Henderson would choose to dispose of the site.

Yesterday Henderson and its architect John McAslan & Partners unexpectedly lost a public inquiry after communities secretary Eric Pickles ruled that their £160m proposals were “wholly unacceptable”.

The minister agreed with the inspector’s conclusion that there was “no pressing need for offices in this particular location sufficient to justify such a harmful intervention”.

Geoff Harris, head of development at TIAA Henderson, accused its opponents of running a “disingenuous campaign” and said the McAslan scheme was backed by English Heritage, Cabe, the City of London, the mayor and Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association.

“Our scheme would have saved and brought back to life these Victorian market buildings that have lain empty for decades,” he said. “This decision will condemn these disused historic buildings to continued decay and yet further uncertainty.”

A source close to the developer said Henderson rejected the inspector’s report outright, along with its contention that a rival proposal put to the inquiry by developer Cathedral, architect Burrell Foley Fischer and market entrepreneur Eric Reynolds was “possible, viable and deliverable”.

Henderson’s view is that there is no credible alternative and that the best thing for its shareholders would be to sit on the site and draw a rental income, said the source.

Costelloe said six years was “quite a lot of crumbling time” but pointed out that the lease obliged Henderson to maintain the buildings.

“I can understand they are feeling a little sore but it’s in no one’s interest that this site lies empty,” he said.

“They are a major developer and I don’t think they are going to act spitefully. It wouldn’t do their reputation or their balance sheet any good.

“Much better to put it on the market and allow a conservation-led scheme to emerge that would reanimate the area.”

Friday, 11 July 2014

Smithfield victory sparks ‘bring back the market’ appeal from heritage campaigners

Heritage campaigners have called for a historic market in Smithfield to be opened up as soon as possible following a surprise decision by the government to block a multi-million pound office development which would have seen it partly demolished.

Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles resoundingly rejected the £160m plans by Henderson Global Investors to knock down part of the historic General Market and nearby Fish Market in Farringdon Street and to build a seven-storey office block and shopping complex on the site.

In doing so he backed an alternative regeneration scheme by the founder of Camden and Spitalfields markets, Eric Reynolds, who put forward proposals to turn it into a Covent Garden-style market.

Mr Reynolds has now urged Henderson to “pick up the phone” and talk to him about setting up a deal.

It is the second time in less than 10 years that an office development has been blocked on the site by the Secretary of State, meaning the “game is pretty much up” for that type of scheme.

Henderson has a lease on the building until 2020. It is currently used by Crossrail to store equipment while it rebuilds Farringdon station.

But it is expected to vacate the market by the end of next year. Mr Reynolds said the building should be made available as soon as possible after that.

In a statement he called for the buildings to be brought into suitable public use as soon as practically possible. “The best way to preserve historic buildings is to keep them in use,” he said. “Crossrail could be ready to move out in a year or so and the re-use project should be prepared to open the doors immediately after the space is clear.”

He added to the Tribune: “Henderson are not a fly-by-night company. We have written to them before about our scheme, but have not heard anything.

“But the belief in the architectural circles now is that the game is up for Smithfield. Mr Pickles’ judgment was very strongly and carefully worded, closing up all the potential loopholes.

“There is a brand new station which will bring thousands of people next to the market. We have a planning application in with the City of London. We hope they will determine this as soon as possible.”

In his strongly worded statement Mr Pickles criticised the City of London Corporation, which owns the building, saying: “The deteriorated state of the building is, at least in part, the result of the history of deliberate neglect.”

Mr Reynold’s call was backed by campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage, which had battled against the office plans.

A spokesman said that the nearby Fish Market is empty and could be used immediately.

Henderson has the right to appeal against Mr Pickles’ decision. It did not respond to requests yesterday for comment.

A spokesman for the City of London – which granted planning permission to Henderson last year – said any new scheme would have to go through the planning process.

Mr Pickles, who had “called in” the decision, described the plan as “wholly unacceptable” on Tuesday. He said: “The extent of damage the application would cause to the important heritage asset of Smithfield runs entirely counter to national and policy objectives intended to protect such assets from harm.”

He added that Mr Reynold’s scheme was “viable and deliverable” and could “secure a long-term future for the buildings”.

SAVE described the victory as “ resounding”. Marcus Binney, SAVE executive president, said: “Our energies will now focus on implementing a scheme on the lines proposed.”

Thursday, 10 July 2014

What next for Smithfield?

Before asking “what now?”, it’s worth asking “what happened?” — if only to absorb the lessons from the most bitter planning battle fought in the City since Gerald Ronson won permission to build the Heron Tower.

Veuve Clicquot champagne poured into commonplace wine glasses greeted preservationists gathered for an impromptu party on a roof terrace overlooking Smithfield market on Tuesday evening. SAVE Britain’s Heritage was celebrating a government decision to reject plans by fund manager TIAA Henderson to insert a 118-foot-high block containing 138,000 square feet of offices and shops into Victorian buildings at the western end of the market.

A long-running battle won. Cheers! Before asking “what now?”, it’s worth asking “what happened?” — if only to absorb the lessons from the most bitter planning battle fought in the City since Gerald Ronson won permission to build the Heron Tower in July 2002.

This particular fight began in 2008, with the killing of plans to flatten the General Market building fronting Farringdon Road, and replaced it with a giant office block.

It’s facile to wholly blame Henderson, except perhaps for its insulting response to the decision by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to dismiss its scheme as “wholly unacceptable”.

Pickles was “influenced by a disingenuous campaign employed by a small minority of objectors”, said Henderson. Otherwise, the fund manager did its best, employing fine architect John McAslan. But the development appraisal spreadsheet must rule.

Henderson’s mistake was to let itself be led by two blameworthy players. The City of London is the freeholder. Its refusal to come up with a vision for the area while simply letting the buildings rot is inexplicable. English Heritage? Britain’s preservation body lost its virginity, after great pressure, accepting the dangerous argument that it was not “commercially viable” to preserve the buildings intact. Nor was it at Covent Garden.

The City, like Henderson, is licking its wounds and barking. Not quite as loudly as the fund manager. The decision was “deeply disappointing for the developer”, said Mark Boleat, chairman of the City policy committee. “We felt that the new building offered a sensitive redevelopment.” Note the past tense. The preservations are not above barking either. There are threats of slapping a “repair order” on the City.

But the mood at the party was otherwise upbeat. One of the UK’s  biggest property companies, Development Securities, now owns the Cathedral Group.

Cathedral has long argued a commercially viable scheme that retains the buildings is viable. “Put the buildings on the market,” is the cry. The war can now go two ways. More battles between the City and SAVE. Or, peace talks, Perhaps over a proper-shaped glass of something fizzy?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Thank God, Smithfield Market is saved!

Can it be true? Beauty has defeated Mammon in the heart of the City of London.

The sainted Eric Pickles has just chucked out the grotesque developers' scheme that would have seen the greatest parade of market buildings in Britain ruined by offices. A great chunk of  steel and glass was going to be shoved through the carefully-considered, flowing lines of the elegant Victorian complex.

SAVE, the buildings heritage group, were heroic in fighting the proposal when things looked really bleak. Their scheme – to turn the market into a series of sensitive shops and restaurants, while respecting the Victorian structure – is wise; the foundation of a new Covent Garden, a reinvigoration of an ancient, beautiful quarter of London.

Is it too much to hope for that, after years of destroying London, government is finally joining the people in realising how much we love old buildings?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

McAslan's Smithfield plans kicked out by Pickles

Communities secretary accuses City Corporation of ‘deliberate neglect’ over buildings’ condition

The communities secretary has rejected John McAslan & Partners’ £160 million proposal to fill Smithfield Market in London with shops and offices and accused the buildings’ owners of not looking after them properly.

Eric Pickles made the shock announcement today following a public inquiry into the scheme which was developed by Henderson Global Investors.

In a strongly worded statement, he said the proposals would have “an extremely harmful effect” on the historic buildings which “runs entirely counter to national and policy objectives intended to protect such assets from harm”.

And he singled out the City of London Corporation, who own the buildings, for criticism.

“The deteriorated state of the buildings is, at least in part, the result of the history of deliberate neglect and that, in assessing the planning balance, less weight should therefore be given to the current condition of the buildings and the consequent benefit of their repair,” he said.

The decision was hailed as a major victory by Save and the Victorian Society who fought the proposal, arguing that it would do too much damage to the historic fabric of Horace Jones’ market buildings in Farringdon.

Together with Cathedral Group and market entrepreneur Eric Reynolds they argued there was a viable alternative which could bring the crumbling buildings back into use as a market ready to take advantage of the arrival of Crossrail.

It is one of the highest-profile schemes rejected by Pickles who waved through Squire & Partners’ Shell Centre plans and David Chipperfield’s Elizabeth House, drawing criticism from conservationists.

Pickles said the buildings involved in the Smithfield scheme, while not listed, were “heritage assets which contributed strongly to the distinctive character of the Smithfield Conservation Area”.

And he added “that the extent of damage that the application would cause to the important heritage assets at Smithfield runs entirely counter to national and policy objectives intended to protect such assets from harm and that this would seriously undermine any economic, social or environmental benefits otherwise arising from the development, such that the proposal would not represent sustainable development”.

While the restored street elevations would enhance the conservation area, he agreed with the inspector that “the other element of the proposed works would have an extremely harmful effect on the significance of the general market as an important non-designated heritage asset”.

Martyn Evans of Cathedral and Chris Costelloe, director of the Victorian Society, were among those who welcomed the news.

Costelloe, who was also the society’s advocate at the public inquiry, said he was particularly pleased that the decision “confirms the principle that owners and developers should not be rewarded for neglecting historic buildings”.

Save caseworker Mike Fox said they were “utterly delighted”. “This is a great victory for heritage and conservation, and certainly one of Save’s greatest saves to date,” he added.

Geoff Harris, head of development at TIAA Henderson, said they were “surprised and extremely disappointed” and warned: “this decision will condemn these disused historic buildings to continued decay and yet further uncertainty.”

It is the second time redevelopment plans for Smithfield have been thrown out at a public inquiry. In 2008 the then communities secretary Hazel Blears rejected KPF’s plans for total demolition.

Smithfield market saved from partial demolition

London’s historic Smithfield Market has been protected from partial demolition after the government ruled against a development plan.

The communities secretary Eric Pickles on Tuesday turned down a £160m proposal by property investor TIAA Henderson Real Estate to convert the derelict Victorian general market and fish market buildings into shops, caf├ęs, bars and an office block.

The plans involved demolishing the roof of the general market hall and some other structures on the site, although the developer said 70 per cent of the fabric would have been preserved.
Minister for planning Nick Boles said the benefits of the scheme “were not enough to outweigh the potential harm to an area of such historic value”.

The case was the most controversial planning decision in the City of London since the battle over tall towers such as the Gherkin, a decade ago.

The development was backed by one of Canada’s largest pension funds, Alberta Investment Management Corporation, but opposed by campaigning charities the Victorian Society and Save Britain’s Heritage.

The campaigners, working with property regeneration company Cathedral, have proposed an alternative development, which would keep the buildings intact and convert them into shopping areas like those at Camden and Spitalfields markets.

However, TIAA Henderson has refused to step aside, and has in the past vowed to leave the buildings derelict if it loses the inquiry – a threat the campaigners have called emotional blackmail.
In a letter setting out the rationale for his decision, Mr Pickles said the alternative proposal “would be possible, viable and deliverable”. He also criticised the City of London Corporation for failing to prevent the buildings from decaying.

Geoff Harris, head of development at TIAA Henderson, said Mr Pickles had been “influenced by a disingenuous campaign employed by a small minority of objectors”.

TIAA Henderson’s plans were backed by English Heritage, the City of London Corporation’s planning department, London mayor Boris Johnson and the Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association.

“Our scheme would have saved and brought back to life these Victorian market buildings that have lain empty for decades and this decision will condemn these disused historic buildings to continued decay and yet further uncertainty,” Mr Harris said.

The City Corporation owns the buildings and TIAA Henderson owns a vast basement underneath, with an option to buy the buildings if its scheme were approved. Having failed in this goal, the buildings will remain in the hands of the Corporation.

Mark Boleat, policy chairman at the Corporation, said the decision was “deeply disappointing for the developer, who has put in so much work”.

“When approving the planning permission for the Smithfield site, we felt that the new building offered a sensitive redevelopment.”

Henderson has in the past said it would use the basement as a car park if its plan was not approved.

Mr Pickles’ decision represents the second failed attempt to redevelop the western end of Smithfield.

In 2008, Thornfield Properties lost a planning inquiry over proposals to demolish the general market building entirely and replace it with a large office block.

Chris Costelloe, director of the Victorian Society, said: “These buildings are vital to the character of Smithfield and to the commercial, industrial and architectural history of the City of London. Buildings like Smithfield General Market are what make the City such a special place.”