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Outrage over plan to move historic Smithfield meat market

Conservationist warns that loss of Smithfield would be ‘real tragedy’

03 August, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Historic Smithfield Market, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, is unique, says Alec Forshaw, above

SHOCK plans to move meat traders from an ancient market have been slammed as a “real tragedy” by a leading historian and former Town Hall planner.

The City of London Corporation announced this week that a “proposal has been agreed in principle” to merge and relocate Smithfield meat market in Farringdon – celebrating its 150th anniversary this year – with Billingsgate fish market and New Spitalfields fruit and veg market.

The Corporation, the governing body of London’s Square Mile, is now looking for a 100-acre site to house the three wholesale markets. There has been meat trading on the Smithfield site, just a stone’s throw from the Islington border, for almost 1,000 years.

Alec Forshaw, the borough’s former top conservation officer and a historian who has written a book on Smithfield, has called for the meat market to remain at its current location.

He said: “It will be a real tragedy for the character of central London if it moves. A lot of other European capitals have lost their traditional butchers’ market, such as the one in Paris. I think they regret that now.”

He added that the current market “does a very good job” in servicing the caterers and restaurants of the capital and stressed the historical significance of the buildings.

There has been meat trading on the Smithfield site, just a stone’s throw from the Islington border, for almost 1,000 years

“It goes back a very, very long time. It’s incredible and absolutely unique. ‘Unique’ is often an overused word but it is really the case with Smithfield,” he said.

Parts of the market building are grade II-listed. They were designed by Sir Horace Jones, a 19th-century architect whose best-known legacy is Tower Bridge.

Mr Forshaw said of the market: “It doesn’t get in anybody’s way because it operates at night.

“It’s in an extremely good spot. It’s extremely convenient for central London caterers and hoteliers to get their stuff.

“People in the market and their customers will be up in arms. People who love London and its history will want to see it stay.”

The City of London has promised a full consultation, which will involve traders from all three markets, customers, the Greater London Authority, MPs and heritage charities.

The final move will require parliamentary approval.

There have been numerous attempts by the City of London Corporation to redevelop parts of the market in recent years.

A £160million plan, which would have gutted some of the buildings, was blocked by the then communities secretary Eric Pickles in 2014.

The Museum of London is planning to move into long-empty buildings, dubbed the General Market, to the west of the site while retaining their character.

Marcus Binney, from SAVE Britain’s Heritage, who works to preserve historical buildings, said of the plans from the City of London: “Our greatest concern is that it could be left empty and rotting for years like Smithfield General Market.

“This is a prime London landmark and efforts should be concentrated on finding a use which provides public access, not just the most lucrative return to the corporation.

“A very large sum has been spent on modernising the market, which makes closure doubly sad.”

Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association, the body which represents traders, said it is not currently commenting on the plans.

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