A bid to save “one of the most important markets in the country” from development will be discussed at a celebrity-backed public inquiry next week.
Smithfield General Market, in Farringdon Road, is said to be under threat after Henderson Global Investors were given the green light for a £160million project to knock down part the building and build a seven-storey office block and shopping complex on the site.
Celebrities - including writer Alan Bennett and Four Weddings and a Funeral star Kristin Scott Thomas - heritage groups and Islington Council have opposed the move and Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for communities and Local Government, then called it in.
Now the plan will be discussed at the inquiry - which opens at 10am on Tuesday and runs for 12 days - before the planning inspector makes his report.
Ms Scott Thomas said: “We should be treasuring this part of our heritage. What the Paris developers did to Les Halles is remembered as an act of vandalism. Do we really want to be remembered as the generation who did the same thing to London?”
Alan Bennett added: “If you go to St Bartholomew’s and then walk through Smithfield, it is like walking from one cathedral to another. You wouldn’t pull down St Bartholomew’s, nor should you pull down Smithfield.”
Chris Costelloe, director of the Victorian Society who will give evidence at the inquiry, said: “This is possibly the most important market complex in country and Henderson want to scrape out the middle of it and build offices.
“The new buildings would stick up over the existing structure and do great damage to the [Charterhouse] conservation area.
“It’s because building is not listed, a decision we don’t agree with, that this has been allowed to go ahead.
“We have submitted an alternative plan, alongside Eric Reynolds, who worked on Camden and Shoreditch Markets to use the site as a retail market.
“Inquiries are unpredictable, but we feel we have strong case.”
The General Market was built in 1883 and sold fruit and vegetables, closed in the 80’s and has been empty since - there has been some kind of market on the site for the last 800 years.
The inquiry is open to members of the public and takes place at The Guildhall, in the City of London.
Geoff Harris, development director at Henderson Global Investors, said: “What we are proposing is a credible, funded and viable scheme which saves 75 per cent of the historic buildings at Smithfield Quarter.
“There is no realistic alternative and if our scheme does not get approved after the public inquiry, then these disused historic buildings will continue to decay and the site will continue to be blighted by further uncertainty.
“We have a chance to really make something of these buildings and we hope that it is not too late to return them to sustainable long term use. Smithfield Quarter is the last real opportunity to save the Victorian heritage of these buildings by delivering a commercially viable development.
“We look forward to presenting our case at public inquiry.”