Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Smithfield inquiry

The latest proposals for the disused west end of Smithfield Market have been turned down by the Government after a planning inquiry - six years after an earlier scheme for the same site was also turned down. The buildings continue to decay - buddleia on site continues to flourish.

The market hall at the centre does indeed look as if it could be a good space for a new market, as proposed by the project's opponents, but there is need in this area for office space, not market halls.  Of the thousands of people who will be arriving at the new Crossrail station at  Farringdon when it opens, some will be looking for scented candles, but I think rather more will be looking for jobs. 

It's hard to get as worked up about the existing buildings as the main objectors Save did, but they must be feeling pleased with themselves.  The self-appointed provos of UK heritage protection, they operate in an system where with more and more of the built environment protected in various ways, they have to turn to more and more mediocre buildings to campaign about.  Clever of them, therefore, to find one only two minutes' walk from their office, saving on travel costs and handy for London-based journalists to cover. Some might think their efforts would be better directed to things that really are worth saving in more benighted parts of the UK than London EC1. 

The publicity that Save attracted was remarkably effective, particularly in the way they persuaded (possibly lazy) journalists to illustrate stories about the market 'under threat', misleadingly, with pictures of the nice, well-known, listed, larger part of the market which is not presently 'under threat' and is unaffected by the project (below), rather than the rightly unlisted west part of the market which was the subject of the rejected scheme (above).

As I suggested in a previous post, it is the life and activity of Smithfield that gives it is distinctive character as much as its buildings.  If the meat market goes, as it probably will eventually, it may be hard to replace that vitality in a way that sustains the parts of the market that are presently in use.  The scale of development that logically ought to follow in the wake of the massive increase in transport capacity resulting from the Crossrail station would help provide the critical mass needed.   Where will that development go?  One of the best sites has just been ruled out by a bad decision.

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