Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Corporation of London (P 4)

  1.  All of the wholesale food and produce markets in London, including those for which the Corporation is market authority and the New Covent Garden Market, are, by their nature, commercial enterprises that provide a vital service for the population of Greater London.

  2.  The Markets are, however, restricted in the way they are managed and operate by the legislation under which they were established. The activities of one will often have the potential to impact on another and the seriousness of upsetting that delicate inter-relationship was recognised when New Covent Garden Market Authority sought and obtained a parliamentary undertaking from the Corporation, restricting the size of the new market, when Spitalfields Market was being moved from Bishopsgate to its current location at Leyton in 1990. The Corporation accepted that position 10 years ago, even though Spitalfields Market was being moved further away from Nine Elms. The Corporation considers that the changes now being sought by New Covent Garden Market could have a significantly more damaging effect on Smithfield and Billingsgate Market than the move of Spitalfields might have had on New Covent Garden 10 years ago.

  3.  The provision of markets and their maintenance involves very considerable expense. In 1982, the cost of the new market at Billingsgate was 14 million; in 1990, the cost of building the new Spitalfields Market (excluding land costs) was 34.5 million; and the recent refurbishment and upgrading of Smithfield Market, was approximately 75 million. Proposals for further improvements at Billingsgate Market are being considered and, before sanctioning the very large expenditure involved in these new proposals, the Corporation will have to have regard to the likely pattern of trading at Billingsgate and other "competing" markets.

  4.  Changes to the nature of trading at New Covent Garden could have very serious implications on the Corporation's markets and the many people who are trading or employed there. The Corporation has at least 240 traders at the three City Markets and they have approximately 3,000 employees; between them they have an annual turnover of some 840 million. Apart from the Corporation's expenditure on its general market facilities and the basic trading units, many of the traders have also invested very significant sums in their "stalls" to meet demanding requirements of Food Hygiene Regulations and their customers.

  5.  The Corporation recognises that the Covent Garden Market Authority has a responsibility to make a full and proper use of the premises at Nine Elms and would not object to any proposals to improve the utilisation that is made of that site—provided that, in doing so, they do not have an adverse impact on any of the City Markets. The Corporation is aware that there are merchants in fruit and vegetable supplies who would like an opportunity to trade at Spitalfields but cannot because that market is already fully let. Obviously, the Corporation would not and should not object to those potential tenants being offered space at Nine Elms as the "primary" purpose of New Covent Garden is similar to that of Spitalfields. The Corporation would, however, object to any extension of or variation to the type of trading at New Covent Garden Market that might encourage traders to move from Smithfield or Billingsgate to Nine Elms. The Corporation is firmly of the view that such an extension should only be considered following a review of the potential effects on the City's and any other markets in the Capital.

  6.  In summary, the Corporation considers that the trading arrangements at New Covent Garden Market should not be varied, to the detriment of the other wholesale food and product markets in London, before all the markets concerned have been given a reasonable opportunity to indicate the nature and extent of the damage that would be done by such a change.

10 January 2001


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