Proposed merger could strengthen Spitalfields, Smithfield and Billingsgate

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Jan Hutchinson, chief executive of the Spitalfields Market Tenants' Association, says of the facility, 'We have a purpose-built, 32-acre facility, but it’s now 26-27 years old and it needs modernising definitely.'

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Smithfield meat market (top) and Billingsgate fish market

Spitalfields Market Tenants’ Association has reacted positively to The City of London Corporation’s announced proposal to merge and relocate New Spitalfields market together with two other historic London food markets – Billingsgate fish market and Smithfield meat market – with only location emerging as an initial concern.

The plan for the three wholesale markets, which has been agreed in principle, is designed to “secure their continued operational success,” according to The City of London Corporation, which governs the historic centre of London and ‘Europe’s most competitive business district,' also known as the Square Mile. 

Jan Hutchinson, chief executive of the Spitalfields Market Tenants’ Association, told PBUK that the proposal to relocate the three markets to a 100-acre venue or smaller sites close to each other would be a good move. 

“I think it’s the way forward with all the competition around the wholesale sector now from cash & carries and supermarkets threatening to encroach into serving small catering companies,” she explained.

“I think combining will give us more strength. It will make us a hub of food, which can only be a good thing.”

Hutchinson was quick to point out that these are the views of the tenants’ association, since the tenants themselves have yet to be surveyed officially.

“From the New Spitalfields Tenants Association point of view, obviously we are very positive,” she noted. “But, at this point, we’re not commenting necessarily on everyone’s views. We’re commenting on our own, and what we see as a future for the market.”

At the time of going to press, PBUK was unable to reach a market tenant that was either available or willing to comment on the proposal.

However, following an initial tenants’ association meeting at the beginning of this week, Hutchinson said the feedback from those tenants who attended was “very positive”, albeit with location and the upheaval of a relocation emerging as the main concerns.

“The biggest issue is the location of it [the merger site], because we [New Spitalfields] are in the right location at the moment,” she stated.

“This location [in Leyton, east London] serves London, the south east, the south of London. Geographically, the road network is good.” 

“We don’t want to move any further out because logistically it does become a challenge. We are the right distance outside of the main metropolis to be able to serve it efficiently. We also have connections to all the surrounding counties that we support: Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk.” 

From the perspective of being able to upgrade its facilities, meanwhile, a relocation would benefit New Spitalfields Market’s traders and customers.

“We have a purpose-built, 32-acre facility, but it’s now 26-27 years old and it needs modernising definitely,” Hutchinson acknowledged. 

“At the meeting, some tenants were negative about what they’ve got to go through to move. But when you look at New Covent Garden Market, which is trying to rebuild on a site around them, it is proving to be nigh on impossible. If the tenants want to upgrade the market, they have to accept that a move would be a better option.”

Although there is no indication at present of what the proposed consolidated market venue would look like, the City of London Corporation said the single site would feature related uses, such as an apprenticeship school for fishmongers and butchers.

“While all three markets would be together, we’ve all got different criteria in terms of food standards, so we would each have our own pavilions,” added Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said the tenants survey will be carried out shortly, while a company called GDA will conduct the feasibility study.

In the meantime, property consultancy Lambert Smith Hampton is searching for a suitable location. 

Local news reports have indicated public unease about moving a market such as the historic Smithfield meat market, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. 

Smithfield remains the City’s only historic wholesale market, and meat has been traded on the same site in Farringdon, reportedly, for almost 1,000 years.

Meanwhile, both Billingsgate and New Spitalfields have already experienced relocation out of the City in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

Billingsgate fish market, the UK’s largest fish market, began trading on the banks of the Thames in the 16th century, before relocating in 1982 to Poplar, east London, which lies opposite Canary Wharf.

Operating under a Royal Charter granted by King Charles II in 1682, New Spitalfields moved in 1991 to a purpose-built 32-acre site in Leyton, east London, which is close to what is now the Olympic Park in Stratford.

“Moving out of the City was the right move when you look at the emission zones, traffic, everything,” said Hutchinson. 

The merger consultation will involve traders from the three markets, the Greater London Authority, Members of Parliament and heritage charities, such as Historic England, the Victorian Society and and the Billingsgate Consultative Committee.

The City of London Corporation declined to comment to PBUK other than to say that more information would be made available once the consultation has been completed and reviewed. 

Ultimately, any move will require approval from UK Parliament.

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