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.