Friday, 15 February 2013
You can understand why West Smithfield hasn't been listed. Architecturally, it's simply wrong; it's as though the ground and first floors were designed by a frustrated young draughtsman under the yoke of a fiercely puritanical senior who suddenly fell ill, allowing a comic and overblown explosion of baroque frivolity for the pediment and dormers. It's simply silly. Still, it doesn't deserve demolition just because it's ugly. Owned by the Corporation of London and closed now for ten years, the latest proposals for its future come from Henderson Investments who are opposed by 'conservation and community groups'.
Henderson would rather fill the whole footprint with office blocks but have produced what they imagine is a compromise, with office block towers rising through the centres of the three market blocks surrounded by a ground floor fringe of the existing outer building ranges. To tackle the kind of 'conservation and community groups' active around Farringdon and Clerkenwell, they propose marketing this space as 'Neal's Yard type' butchers, bakers, delis and cheesemongers. Good call. Neal's Yard is still the weird middle-class home of women who make curd cheese using their own placenta as a starter culture, hand-knitters of yoghurt sandals and vendors of joss-stick flavoured sweets like little piles of lambs' vomit. The 'conservation and community groups' will have none of it (though, I guess, secretly tempted ) and are demanding traditional markets with exhibition and event space.
Personally, I reckon they're both right. You need a backbone of commercial development to pay for the rest, but perhaps not as much as Henderson want. The locals are perhaps looking at Smithfield becoming another Camden Lock or Spitalfields, both of which only really come alive at the weekend. But both proposals ignore the unique advantage of the location - wide, accessible streets with broad covered cross-streets ideal for high volume vehicle movements - deliveries, collections, loading and unloading. Nowhere else in the City's crowded mediaeval street pattern does this exist, and even across the river around Borough Market the vehicle access is abysmal. This asset would be wasted on office blocks or aromatherapeutic cheese shops. Of equal importance is a development for West Smithfield that maintains the viability of East Smithfield as a working meat market - now moreso than ever. Neither set of proposals does so as they stand.
The City is likely to look at the planning application in the next few months. Feel free to let them have your views.