Plans to save the Victorian Smithfield General Markets from demolition have been published by a heritage group and the man behind Camden Markets.
Eric Reynolds of Urban Space Management, which has also revitalised Spitalfields Market, and heritage group SAVE, have written to the City Corporation – the local authority for the buildings in Farringdon Street – arguing that it could be turned into a viable general market along the same lines as Covent Garden.
The market buildings in question were built between 1870 and 1890 and are part of a complex including the famous Smithfield Meat Market, which has been on the site for 800 years.
The market closed in the 1980s and has been empty ever since. In 2007 a public inquiry ruled that the General Market should not be demolished unless it was impossible to sell on the open market.
Now, however, it has been passed on by Deloitte – who came into ownership in the early 2000s after a previous property company went bust – to Henderson Global Investors who have put in a planning application to knock down all but the perimeter, and build a tower block on the site.
Marcus Binney, president of SAVE, based in Cowcross Street, Clerkenwell, has described the plans as the “worst mutilation of a major Victorian landmark in 30 years”.
He added that the scheme has been described as “butchery” by the Victorian Society.
In his letter to SAVE Mr Reynolds said: “We have put forward proposals showing how the General Market buildings, if retained in their present form with the internal market halls, can generate an annual income in the order of £4.8m.
“We continue to be extremely interested in acquiring and running Smithfield General Market as a retail market. We consider this can be a viable and thriving operation bringing life and added business to the area as significant as other revived markets, notably Covent Garden, Borough Markets and Spitalfields.”
Heritage group SAVE said they are working closely with Urban Space Management to bring the market back into reuse, but that English Heritage won’t look at their proposals.
English Heritage, which is supporting the Henderson scheme, says it “recognises the concerns raised by SAVE”. But the body added: “The current proposal put forward by Henderson Global Investors unites long-term sustainable restoration with the reuse of the Smithfield Western Market Buildings.
“Whilst it is true that the scale and height of the new office floors will result in moderate harm to the conservation area in certain views, these proposals have the potential to deliver economic, social and heritage benefits and it is these elements which the City of London Corporation must now balance.”
It added: “Earlier this year, English Heritage staff attended an event held by SAVE to launch their alternative proposals for Smithfield Market. At no time since that launch were we invited to discuss those proposals, until after the issuing of the latest press release which claimed we had already refused an invitation.
“We regret that SAVE finds it necessary to issue misleading information. However, English Heritage is willing to discuss their proposals and has responded to last week’s invitation.”