Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Director of Markets, Corporation of London

  Thank you very much for your letter of 8 July seeking more information on consideration being given to the possible relocation of Billingsgate Market to Leyton (New Spitalfields), following the initial evidence given to the Select Sub-Committee by Richard Adams and myself on 30 June.

  I should start by reiterating that no formal policy decisions have been taken by the Corporation about options for the future of Billingsgate (or indeed Smithfield). The Corporation's formal position vis-à-vis the Saphir Report remains as stated in the letter of 18 February to the Secretary of State at DEFRA.

  Nevertheless, in case the current discussions about the future of Covent Garden fail to bring about a mutually agreed solution, it is only prudent to consider alternative options. One of these might be to relocate Billingsgate to Leyton, adjacent to the New Spitalfields site. The traders at Billingsgate have made it very clear to us that, if they cannot remain on their current site, they would wish to move en bloc to Spitalfields, not to New Covent Garden. I can confirm that there would be legislative obstacles to be overcome before any relocation could be effected, since Billingsgate was relocated to its current site some 21 years ago under the authority of a private Act of Parliament and a further private Act would be required to move it again and "de-market" the current site.

  On a separate but related point, we took very close interest in Mr Mills' evidence about his discussions with various property developers on the disposal of part of the Covent Garden site and reinvestment of some of the proceeds in the Market itself. This is similar to a concept already considered by the Corporation, as part of routine options work, whereby we would ring-fence the profits from any redevelopment on the market site and reinvest them in the Market itself. When floated informally to the Covent Garden Market Tenants Association, this gained a distinctly cool response. This is an area which might productively be looked at again, since the Corporation has a good track record of investing in and maintaining its markets and taking the long-term view, whereas property developers tend to have a rather different focus—and are unlikely to wish to tie up capital in, and operate, a low margin wholesale food market for any great length of time.

David A H McG Smith

17 July 2003

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