Save Smithfield Market

Smithfield plan: an ugly compromise that needs to be knocked on the head 01.03.2014

Estates Gazette

By Peter Bill, Planet Property, London Evening Standard

Remember Mallett’s Mallet? The six-foot foam hammer TV presenter Timmy Mallett used to bonk quiz contestants on the head with if they gave wrong answers on his 1980s children’s show, Wide Awake Club? A desire to bonk Henderson Global Investors on the bonce with Mallett’s Mallet comes now as a 12-day public inquiry into its plans to drop an office block in the centre of an old Victorian market hall in Smithfield closes. Henderson gave all the right answers when it came to the £160m development itself: offices make the scheme viable. But they gave all the wrong answers when it comes to imagining the positive effect a refurbished market would have on local office values. Some of which Henderson owns. Bonk! Actually…take that back. It would be fairer to the traduced fund manager to take a giant hammer made of slightly dense material and bonk the thick skull of the City Corporation.

The freeholder – and planning authority – has been coming up with the wrong answer for this western portion of Smithfield market since the early noughties, when it allowed Thornfield Properties to submit plans that would have involved demolishing the market completely and replacing it with a grotesque 380,000 sq ft monster, courtesy of US architects KPF. Death by public inquiry duly occurred in 2008. More simpatico architect John McAslan was appointed. Thornfield went bust in 2010. Henderson took over. I went to see McAslan in late 2010. Why not turn the space into a “Leadenhall market” for the western end of the City, I asked. “It could be a Leadenhall in the west of the City,” he agreed, “but we need to look at the feasibility first.” That took a while. In March 2012 the current halfway house plans were unveiled after tortuous negotiations. Guess what? They were called in last September. The City Corporation seems incapable of looking beyond its wallet to a wider vision for the area. Henderson had duly narrowed its vision. The result is an ugly compromise. I should declare an interest: I have a flat half a mile away. My inclination is to support development. But this case is giving developers a bad name, with distant echoes of the 1970s fight to save Covent Garden. Discount my prejudice. Listen instead to level-headed planner Roger Hepher of Savills. He spoke at the inquiry last week. “The City Corporation has not yet properly considered the future of this unique intensification area; hence the current application scheme stands to be considered without any proper context. “An artisan market would suit…very well indeed. It would help create a vibrant urban atmosphere…which in turn would appeal to investors and tenants.” Like Henderson, which has just won permission to build a 910 000 sq ft office block. Guess where? Close to Leadenhall Market. Buffeted by the chatter A fine reason for buying and holding property will be spelt out on Saturday by Warren Buffet. The Sage of Omaha released a portion of his newsletter on 26 March, ahead of full publication timed to coincide with the results for Berkshire Hathaway, his $280bn (£167.5bn) fund. The 83-year-old billionaire uses a 400-acre farm he has owned since 1986 as an example. “If a moody fellow with a farm bordering my property yelled out a price every day to me at which he would either buy my farm or sell me his – and those prices varied widely over short periods of time depending on his mental state – how in the world could I be other than benefited,”

Buffett writes. “If his daily shout-out was ridiculously low, and I had some spare cash, I would buy his farm. If the number he yelled was absurdly high, I could either sell to him or just go on farming.” And for those thinking of selling after taking notice of something yours truly might have said? The Sage again: “Because there is so much chatter about markets, the economy, interest rates, price behaviour of stocks, etc, some investors believe it is important to listen to pundits – and, worse yet, important to consider acting upon their comments.”


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