Peter’s Perspective | Battle of Smithfield

The Battle of Smithfield continues, says Peter Murray, with developers and conservationists at odds over its future…

The debate about what should happen to the General Market buildings at Smithfield has been dragging on for a decade. And now the battle lines are drawn for the next skirmish – between conservationists on one side, led by SAVE Britain’s Heritage, and the developers on the other in the form of Henderson Global Investors and the City of London Corporation.

The first round has gone to SAVE, which not only rubbished the proposals designed by John McAslan and Partners (the architecture firm hired by Henderson), but produced its own scheme by the architects Burrell Foley Fisher. This, despite the fact that McAslan’s scheme is much better than previous ones. McAslan has a track record of melding historic buildings with contemporary architecture, like the refurbishment of King’s Cross Station and its spectacular concourse. But it’s hard to work out how good its Smithfield scheme is – because the developers won’t talk about it. Henderson held an exhibition for just five hours in October and sent out a few flattering computer generated images to the press. And that’s about it.

In the McAslan scheme, the ground floor will house restaurants and shops. The majority of the Victorian perimeter is retained while the central area accommodates office space. In contrast, SAVE proposes the complete restoration of the Victorian buildings to form a cultural and retail hub.

Such stark differences in what the future holds for Smithfield Market should be debated. The developers should be more communicative and the City of London should take heed of Government guidelines which recommend local authorities should recommend developers to “engage with the local community.” Otherwise they will continue to be misunderstood.

Peter Murray is Chairman of NLA: London’s Centre for the Build Environment. He is cycling from Portland, Oregon to Portland Place, London in April 2013: