The terminal market endures and prevails

NCGM exterior photo

Photos courtesy of New Covernt Garden Market

This feature first appeared on PerishablePundit.com

Jim PrevorPerhaps because we were born into a family working on Manhattan’s old Washington Street Market, and the family was an original tenant at the opening of the Hunts Point Market… or, perhaps because the Pundit Poppa was both a wholesaler on Hunts Point and a major exporter to the United Kingdom, working with firms on the old Covent Garden Market, we’ve always had a soft spot for the UK and those on the New Covent Garden Market.

Of course, since we launched The London Produce Show and Conference (on hiatus for the pandemic but coming back as part of the UK’s largest food show next year) and ProduceBusinessUK.com, we’ve had a more direct interest in the UK and its produce industry.

Of course, having watched the difficulty our friends at the Hunts Point Market in New York have had trying to build a new future for their market and having watched how the government tried to bully our friends on the Chicago market back when the city wanted their land, it is with incredible pride and enormous pleasure that we acknowledge the enormous triumph of traders on the New Covent Garden Market.

On 26 November 2020, the traders and market authority at London’s original and largest fruit, veg and flower wholesale market New Covent Garden Market (NCGM) reached a landmark settlement that paves the way for the redevelopment of the 46-year-old site to secure NCGM’s position as a thriving, sustainable, and world-class market for the future.

After a lengthy dispute that resulted in legal action, the Covent Garden Tenants Association (CGTA) and the Covent Garden Market Authority (CGMA) have agreed to a set of proposed amendments to the original £200m redevelopment plan unveiled in 2018.

We asked Gill McShane, contributing editor for Pundit sister publication, ProduceBusinessUK.com, to speak with Gary Marshall, Chairman of the CGTA and managing director of Bevington Salads; David Frankish, Chairman of the CGMA; Jason Tanner, Deputy Chairman of the CGTA and founder of Premier Fruits; and Amanda Cane, Finance, Operations & Compliance Manager at P&I Fruits, to understand the motivations, the outcome and the impact of this historic resolution for London’s leading wholesale horticultural market.

Q: Gary, in late 2018, the CGTA began a high Court legal appeal against the CGMA to seek an injunction against the redevelopment plans for NCGM, followed by a second legal action in the late summer of 2019. What were the motivations and concerns that led to the legal dispute?

Gary Marshall chairman of the CGTAGary Marshall (GM): After 12 years of discussions and ideas being put forward for the redevelopment, it became apparent that there would be no compromise from the CGMA. Secondly, the market’s tenants weren’t being consulted in any way, and the fault didn’t only lie with the CGMA but sadly also with Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to whom the CGMA is accountable], where our concerns fell on deaf ears.

This gave us, the market tenants, basically two options. Option 1 was to capitulate or to attempt a negotiation to get the best outcome, for which I was willing to resign as Chairman of the CGTA. Option 2 was to take legal action on the basis that the proposals were unfair and unlawful. The CGTA called an extraordinary general meeting in which both options were put to the floor. In particular, we had to make the tenants aware that legal action would be an expensive process as we would need to raise £1 million.

The decision was made to proceed with legal action. Our case was based on the fact that the new market the CGMA was constructing would not work logistically; there was not enough parking, and it was not suitable for the market’s vehicle traffic. Also, there was a lack of real consultancy and a possibility that it hadn’t been carried out in a proper, meaningful way, which the CGMA had a statutory responsibility to do. That was our legal challenge. Obviously, the CGMA refuted our claims and made a very robust counter claim. Sadly, it looked like this was going to be the way forward for a long time.

Q: Evidently, the dispute had reached an impasse. When did the situation change, and what paved the way for the beginning of the resolution?

GM: Pam Alexander lost her post as Chairwoman of the CGMA, and in January 2019 Defra brought in David Frankish, who has a lot of commercial experience and a very good professional background. David has a real understanding of logistics, and he had a true belief that the only way we could settle our differences was to work together.

Q: The appointment of David Frankish as Chairman of the CGMA was clearly significant. What did David do differently?

GM: Between January 2019 through to April 2019, David listened to his own team at the CGMA and to us at the CGTA. He did not jump into any decisions or make any promises. He took his time. After a period of six months, he realised that for the project to proceed successfully, changes needed to be made.

That led to a different dynamic. The CGMA began asking us what were the problems, and they started to look at how to solve them rather than ignoring them or pretending that they weren’t apparent. It was a very different and professional approach that took place under David. He was supported by some very good commercial advisers too, notably Garry Connolly [Legal Director at Agilia, a specialist infrastructure consultancy], who was very helpful.

By the end of March 2019, myself, Jason Tanner, the CGTA Deputy Chairman (and Chairman of Premier Fruits), and Amanda Cane, the Finance, Operations and Compliance Manager at P&I Fruits, were having face-to-face conversations with David Frankish and Garry Connolly about the logistical challenges, as well as the incentives and support needed for the traders who would have to invest in new units.

We were confident we were in a good place, and myself, Jason and Amanda had the full support of the market community. At the end of the day, common sense prevailed. We found a way of communicating, listening, and making our challenges.

Q: David, you were appointed as the Chairman of the CGMA effective 1 February 2019 and have been credited with bringing an inclusive approach to resolving the disagreements over the redevelopment. How did you succeed in bringing both sides together? Did it help that you had a fresh pair of eyes and were detached from the original plan? Did your background in grocery logistics also play a role in resolving the concerns of the CGTA?

David Frankish
Chairman of CGT

David Frankish Chairman of the Covent Gardent Market AuthorityDavid Frankish (DF): The simple answer is, yes, it really does help if you come into a situation like this with fresh eyes and no baggage. If you’re too close to something, you lose that ability to step back and have a clear perspective. There were issues that had been outstanding, and there were genuine concerns about logistics among the tenants. My background was helpful to understand those concerns, and to understand that there were solutions fairly readily available.

By putting the logistics into context, it brought to the fore the deeper issues, some of which were related to the market’s design. From my point of view, I felt that we could accommodate those concerns in part, although not necessarily in whole. To get the dialogue going, it was important to listen genuinely and to come back with constructive proposals. To be fair to the tenants, they responded to that. Then once you enter into a dialogue, and you achieve a momentum, you find that people start looking for solutions rather than problems. So both sides started to look for solutions, and we delivered a deal in the end. It was very much down to mutual efforts.

Q: How difficult was it to reach a final agreement after the lengthy disagreements? What held back the resolution?

DF: I think the two parties [CGMA and CGTA] weren’t talking in a common language, and without that you won’t find a deal. Both sides had a clear view of what they wanted but the two views didn’t reconcile naturally. It was difficult to get the discussions going because both sides were stating why what they wanted was reasonable, and both sides had reasonable points to make.

This is where my business background helped because my natural inclination is to find a way to make a deal. We needed to look for the common aims rather than the stated aims – what could we agree on, what was the gap and could we close that gap to reach a deal? I felt that there was a deal to be made because deep down both parties wanted to have a successful market; that was in their common interest. So, with the goodwill of all parties, finally we got there.

Q: Gary, what was the outcome of the open discussions between the CGTA and the CGMA? What has been agreed under the settlement following the public consultation in July this year?

GM: The CGTA wanted the design for the new wholesale market buildings to be changed. So, we have altered the dynamic of those buildings to make them more operational and fit for purpose. That was the major point. That then enabled us to achieve some more financial support for the tenants, and to negotiate some other parts of the deal.

At that point we requested from the court that the dates should be extended to allow for talks to continue. The talks were positive and resulted in us negotiating a new lease and a full settlement agreement. Once that was agreed, I’m pleased to say there was no point in going to court because there was no more to be achieved.

We secured long leases for the market tenants, ranging from 15-years plus. The most significant point is that these long leases are all protected by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. [Known as ‘Security of Tenure’, under the 1954 Act, the landlord is obliged, except in specified circumstances, at the end of the lease and where the tenant wishes to remain, to grant a new lease of the premises to the tenant at the then current market rent]. This gives the traders a really brilliant future!

Also, whilst we were campaigning for the support of our plight, we managed to get a great deal of support from Members of Parliament (MPs). MP Chris Heaton-Harris [Minister of State at the Department for Transport] was very helpful in getting some of our questions to the right people in government.

It took 14 years of real hard work, commitment, tenacity, professionalism and solidarity on the part of the market tenants. We took on not just the landlord but the government. When they realised what was right, they helped us. We’ve come to a phenomenal position that gives NCGM the biggest future in London, maybe the UK. We have more security now than any other London market, and perhaps any wholesale market in the UK.

NCGM Buyers' Walk action

Q: What has changed since the original redevelopment plans? There were concerns about a lack of traffic and trading space, and instead of knocking down and turning around the wholesale market buildings, the CGTA wanted to make significant upgrades… Is that going to happen?

GM: The old buildings are still coming down, but whereas they were going to be replaced with buildings that were not fit for purpose, now they will be replaced with buildings that will work effectively. The market will still be rebuilt, but now it is with our blessing and our assistance.

The fundamental change is to the length of the building, which will be reduced by 9 metres [on the ground floor] to allow for more customer parking and more tenant parking for vehicle loading and unloading. That is a significant change and one that makes the market far better operationally.

Also, we are extending the very famous Buyers’ Walk [to 6 metres wide]. We are enhancing the width of the Buyers’ Walk for better access, whereas under the CGMA’s originalplan, that width was reduced to the point where it wouldn’t work [4 metres]. These are the two biggest changes. What we’re going to build now will be better for market operations.

Q: David, where did both sides have to compromise for the market’s redesign to be approved?

DF: In a wholesale market, the purpose of the Buyers’ Walk is to display the fantastic quality and variety of fresh produce. The tenants felt that the original design wouldn’t allow them to show off their produce and move around in the way that they wanted, plus they wanted additional parking space outside for the vans. To make this possible, the tenants were willing to forgo some internal space that would have been for their trading units. So, the CGMA was able to accommodate both requests.

The wholesale market building consists of three, double-story unit blocks. What is changing is that the ground-floor wall of Block A and Block C will be set back by 9 metres to provide more parking space downstairs, while the second-floor wall of these blocks will protrude as a mezzanine level above the ground floor.

NCGM wholesale buildings redesign following settlement agreement

[Visual images of the newly approved design are featured in the consultation document for the proposed changes of the NCGM redevelopment.]

Q: Gary, what will be the size of the new wholesale building, and are you happy with the space?

GM: To accommodate parking and operational logistics, the building will measure about 23-metres long and 6.5-metres wide, whereas originally the plan was for a 32-metres long building. There has been a compromise, of course, but we have done the best we can to make the most for the market within the space allocated. We are satisfied that now NCGM will be able to challenge any other market in Europe and beyond!

Q: There was also the traffic dispute concerning the demolition of the Southern Vehicle Car Park (SVCP), an area encompassing several acres that included covered space for the unloading and loading for produce by customers. What has happened in that respect?

GM: The SVCP ceases to exist, but we are working together with the CGMA to find new tenants who don’t have a lot of vehicles for whom those buildings [constructed on the old SVCP site] would suit.

Q: How are you ensuring that traders can continue operating while the new buildings are constructed as this was a concern previously?

GM: Currently, we’re going through a migration strategy, including vacating buildings that will be demolished. Previously, the site developer [Vinci St. Modwen]was telling the CGMA when they needed traders to vacate their building units without either party having in-depth knowledge about the trading requirements of those individual businesses. Now, the CGTA is giving them specific information on every single company.

No move is easy for a business to make, but the CGTA can recommend which company to move at what time. If you understand what each company does and what they need, there is a way to make the move as easy as possible. Plus, of course, now the traders are in full support of the redevelopment.

Q: Jason, as Deputy Chairman of the Covent Garden Tenants Association (CGTA), can you explain what the resolution agreement means to you and your fellow tenants?

Jason Tanner deputy chairman of the CGTA and founder of Premier Fruits

Jason Tanner (JT) (above): After 14 years of negotiations, 26 November 2020 marked a truly historic moment for New Covent Garden Market when the agreement with the CGMA was signed, securing the future of the market and its tenants. Whilst the contract was a compromise for both sides, it ensures steady and solid logistical improvements for the future operation of the market; developments that we know will instill a sense of confidence and optimism as we begin to look forward. The mutually beneficial settlement will facilitate the way in which market tenants work, offering affordability and sustainability with regards to the coming years.

Q: In what ways will this deal safeguard the history and the future of NCGM?

JT: The CGTA, alongside the CGMA, firmly believes that this will help shape our heritage and legacy as the best wholesale market in the UK, with tenants signing 25-year leases whilst remaining protected under the 1954 Landlord and Tenant Act. As ever, this milestone comes as a result of the CGTA’s hard work in guaranteeing that the voices of all tenants within the market were heard, ensuring the plans for rebuilding the market mirror the individual needs of their businesses.

The New Covent Garden Market is London’s largest wholesale fresh produce market, home to 175 businesses, all of whom provide some of the country’s finest hospitality and retail sites with the freshest and best produce. We are thrilled that this decision has been reached as it protects and safeguards the very foundations that the market was founded upon, one of community and diversity.

The range of people who depend upon the functionality of the market is what makes this news all the more powerful, as we believe it was an integral step that had to be made in order to maintain our history whilst assuring the future of both our tenants and the businesses we serve country-wide.

Q: Amanda, you are the Finance, Operations & Compliance Manager at P&I Fruits, one of the wholesalers at NCGM. When did you get fully involved with the negotiations, and who else did you work with that deserves a mention for their efforts in reaching this landmark agreement?

Amanda Cane (AC): I joined the CGTA’s executive committee about six years ago. Very quickly, I formed a sub-administration committee to look at the planning applications for the redevelopment of NCGM, working in collaboration with local residents in particular. When the planning application went through, we turned our attention to the legal bid. We had excellent legal representation; we received great advice, and our lawyers held us strong and steady.

When the legal action began, I believe that Defra assigned Marian Holliday to observe the processes at CGMA, and, subsequently, I met her at one of the early meetings between the CGTA and the CGMA at the Food Exchange. At that time, Marian was the Deputy Director for the Commercial Policy Division at Defra, and she became our main point of contact at Defra right up to the deal being signed.

I believe Marian understood our concerns very well and that she worked hard in the background to help us to find a workable solution. I think Marian’s consistency throughout the last few years, despite the several changes to the Minister during that time, also contributed to the positive outcome. Then the pivotal moment came when David Frankish was appointed as Chairman of the CGMA, as he brought a fresh, collaborative approach to the negotiations.

We also received tremendous support from Nigel Jenney, the CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), and previously a board member of the CGMA. Nigel was a real advocate for the CGTA, and he has always provided excellent advice to the industry. Nigel often promoted the CGTA during CGMA board meetings; encouraging the previous board members to value our contribution to the discussions, rather than dismiss our ideas, as was often the case historically. Nigel is another person who works tirelessly in the background to support the produce industry and to lobby the government on our behalf as required.

Q: How important is solidarity and cooperation for the wholesale market community?

AC: We are all stronger when we stand together. The outcome at NCGM is a really positive message to share with market communities everywhere, not just for tenants to understand the importance of standing together, but for landlords to realise that the tenants are the solution to any issues, or ideas for the development of their markets – we are not the problem. The tenants are entrepreneurs that have run successful businesses for many years, and we have credible and innovative ideas. We should be at the heart of any discussions about the future of our markets.

Together, we have achieved something wonderful at NCGM. It’s been a very long road, but the reason we were successful was because the CGTA had the full backing of the tenant community. They backed it with their hearts, souls and their money. We can look forward now to a really collaborative relationship between the CGTA and the CGMA, and the development of a really fantastic wholesale market for decades to come.

Q: Gary, having overcome your differences, how does the relationship now stand between the CGTA and the CGMA?

GM: We are in a really positive position for both parties. The CGTA is working together with the CGMA on many aspects. We are talking to them in a very open and frank way about the migration process in terms of which tenants to locate in certain areas of the new market buildings. For example, if you placed tenants together who use many vehicles, you would consolidate a lot of vehicle traffic. But if certain traders with heavy vehicle usage are located with non-vehicle users, that makes the site more workable and viable. That type of discussion wasn’t happening before.

Also, for the first time, the CGTA is sitting down and talking with Vinci St. Modwen. Now, we have the developer, the landlord and the tenants all sitting in open, transparent meetings, which is the right step forward. There will be challenges ahead – we have a lengthy market re-development going on in the midst of a global pandemic – but we are working and facing it together.

Q: David, is it fair to say that this renewed relationship is critical for a successful future at New Covent Garden Market?

DF: Our relationship with the CGTA is absolutely critical for the future of NCGM. A market cannot be successful unless the traders are operating in an environment that gives them success within the space we have. Our role at the CGMA is to enable the traders to do just that and not just via the physical assets (such as the redevelopment) but also through the knowledge economy.

The CGMA is part of the supply chain, and there is a lot of information that we can share with our traders to help identify new opportunities or potential new suppliers or customers. Plus, we can help with the PR to attract more wholesale and retail customers to the market as well as members of the public. Working together is crucial to maximise the potential of NCGM. Both sides understand that, and that is what we are doing.

Q: David, the CGMA appointed a number of new board members during 2020. What has the new board brought to the table, and how significant are these personnel changes for NCGMgoing forward?

DF: When I joined the CGMA, three to four board members were naturally reaching the conclusion of their terms. Then, we focused deliberately on bringing in people with a background in horticulture who understand the industry directly from the perspective of various parts of the supply chain; those who can empathise with the challenges faced by the market.

That’s our mandate; the CGMA has a statutory duty to provide a full wholesale horticultural market to London. I understand grocery logistics but not necessarily the trading of horticulture. So it was important to bring in people with complementary skills and knowledge. Ultimately, we have a better balance now, and a new board with a fresh pair of eyes eager to lead NCGM forward, especially during this testing time during the pandemic.

Q: Gary, now that the delays are behind you, and work to redevelop NCGM able to continue at pace, when will the new wholesale market will be ready?

GM: The redevelopment programme is a further seven years. But now we’re working together there may be ways and opportunities to shorten that timeframe. The power of working together is incredible! I’m pretty confident that we’ll shave time off the schedule, we’ll find better ways of doing things, and new ideas will come up that will enhance the plan further.

Q: NCGM has a history dating back over 350 years. Gary, you’ve said before that NCGM has the potential to become a truly iconic market and a leader on not only the London but also the European wholesale scene. Can NCGM achieve that standard in view of the amended redevelopment?

GM: From the outset, that was our inspiration and our desire, and certainly now that is our goal! Now more than ever, that is achievable because the three main parties [CGTA, CGMA and Vinci St. Modwen] are aligned with that same goal in mind.

I honestly believe we’ve got the knowledge, the support and the entrepreneurs to achieve that position of leadership. NCGM traders have the passion, desire, professionalism and community spirit. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us all, and I’m very confident because of the solidarity we’ve shown over the years in the face of all this adversity.

Within the next five to seven years, NCGM will become the envy of Europe; we will be the best market out there without a shadow of a doubt!

Q: David, what do you feel the redeveloped NCGM will accomplish?

DF: The broader vision for New Covent Garden Market has always been shared between CGMA and CGTA. The sticking point was how to get there. At the CGMA, we fully endorse Gary’s comments on the future of NCGM. On this site we want to have a very successful, vibrant and working wholesale market and flower market, as well as the Food Exchange.

We want this regenerated area of London to be attractive to both the horticultural industry and members of the public. London is a world city, and it’s not unreasonable to believe that in seven years’ time, NCGM will be a destination not only for traders, buyers and food businesses in the UK, but also for tourists from the UK and further afield.

Q: Jason, what’s your outlook for the future of NCGM, especially considering the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19?

JT: As we live in uncertain times, this news offers a glimmer of hope as we look toward growing and progressing in the future. We are confident that with the new plans for roads, buildings and state-of-the-art facilities being built, the safety and reputability of New Covent Garden Market will sustain and flourish.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been a source of availability and refuge for many, offering home deliveries and supporting our customers as best as we can. We are excited to continue to grow from strength to strength, sourcing and delivering to some of the largest hospitality companies in the country whilst always remaining open to smaller retailers and individuals.

Q: Gary, does NCGM have the added opportunity of embracing more business considering the proposed consolidation and move of Billingsgate, New Spitalfields and Smithfields markets outside of London?

GM: The Corporation of London is talking about moving New Spitalfields fruit and veg market further out of London, while obviously there’s a desire among the traders for it to stay put. If the market does move, it would give NCGM a great opportunity to pick up some of their trade, as they’ve picked up some of our trade in the past.

The same can be said of Western International Market… there are talks and a desire within the local council to move the market to land that is not as valuable. Western International will do all it can to challenge that and stay where they are. Fortunately, for NCGM, the simple fact is that we aren’t going anywhere. We are staying put, and we will be here [in London’s Nine Elms] for the next 20, 50, or 100 years. No other market can make that statement.

Q: What’s been the reaction from NCGM customers to this settlement? Gary, you raised concerns previously that customers might use a different market because they couldn’t operate effectively within the redeveloped NCGM. Have you seen any future commitment from customers?

GM: As a market for customers, suppliers and tenants, we couldn’t have received this great news at a worse time. It’s fantastic news, but it doesn’t solve the problems we’ve all got dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, our customers are extremely pleased. I must say that our external customers have been phenomenal in their support of the market during this really difficult time. A lot of local, independent retailers, such as local grocery stores, fruit and veg shops and farm shops, have picked up some business from shoppers avoiding big supermarkets. Where they’ve picked up a bit of business they’ve taken that to NCGM. We’ve also found a few new customers coming to NCGM to get the quality, consistency and price we can offer.

Throughout this redevelopment process, we have managed to keep our customers involved and informed. Now with the efforts of the CGMA, there is a real dialogue about how we deal with our customers; their interests, views and concerns are being dealt with in a proper way. So I’m very confident we will keep our customers and gain more.

We are really hoping that we can get back to trading at full capacity at NCGM, but for that to happen, we realise the country needs to repair itself. We need the restaurants to be fully open, and the hospitality and events sectors back to normal.

Q: What does this successful resolution mean for other wholesale markets around the world?

GM: NCGM should be taken as a shining example to show the whole industry the importance of wholesale markets. There is a massive underestimation of what wholesale markets bring to Great Britain. The three London wholesale markets [NCGM, Western International and New Spitalfields] turn over nearly £2 billion alone, which rises to £5 billion if you include the rest of the wholesale markets in Great Britain. Plus, we provide more than 50,000 jobs, I believe.

If any market traders in the UK, Europe or globally are being challenged, they should stand together to ensure they can maintain this incredibly important job that we do for our countries.

******

What a journey, what a story, what a triumph!

How fortunate the industry was to have Gary, Jason, Amanda and others to fight the good fight, and how fortuitous that just at the right moment David came into a position of authority. There is a sense in which this great triumph is the exception that proves the rule, because long term, it seems to us that markets around the world almost inevitably will wind up being pushed out of urbanizing areas.

It is better if markets own their land. If governments own the markets, they are tempted to push them out sooner since they don’t experience the loss caused by business disruption. And, of course, the vendors lose the upside of land-price appreciation. On the other side of the industry, we have known many growers who have struggled for decades, but increasing urbanization increased the value of their land and, at some point, they were able to get paid in a moment for 100 years of hard work..

This all saddens us in a way. There is an energy and vibrancy that markets bring to a city. There is, surely, a gain in efficiency when markets are moved to remote locations. The warehouses can be on one floor, space for the largest trucks backing up can be accommodated, food safety is facilitated as people and the outside environment are separated from the produce. It is all a triumph. But the urban core becomes sterile, all white-collar workers sitting in offices.

The energy and the exuberance, are missing. In that there is loss all over the world.

But not today. Not for New Covent Garden in the great city of London. We congratulate our produce brethren working there and applaud David and the public authorities for seeing a way forward.

We can’t wait to visit the reimagined market and showcase it at the next iteration of The London Produce Show and Conference!

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