Smithfield traders ‘bullied’ into market switch

Tenants say they’ll fight to stay at historic site as City’s Dagenham plans edge a step closer

Friday, 26th March 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Smithfield IMG_8742

Meat traders could leave Smithfield for Dagenham

SMITHFIELD tenants have accused the City of London of using “bully-boy” tactics after plans to move the historic meat market to Dagenham got the green light this week.

The City, who own the buildings in Farringdon which house around 1,400 workers, declared that their proposals to merge Smithfield with Billingsgate and New Spitalfields wholesale markets at a new site in Dagenham Docks had taken a “major step forward”.

Barking and Dagenham Council’s planning committee granted the City “outline planning consent” at a meeting on Monday evening, paving the way for the move which could generate an estimated £2.9billion.

Greg Lawrence, chairman of Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association, said: “It’s wrong what the City is doing. It’s so wrong. It’s the big bully boys just trying to take over. Pre-virus, the businesses up here were solid, profitable businesses. Now they are trying to come in here and bully us and we won’t stand for it.

“We will go to whatever lengths, legally, we’re going to have to go to to stay here. They have a fight on their hands.”

Greg Lawrence

The tenants believe that if they are forced to move to Dagenham they will lose the customers they have been supplying in central London hotels, restaurants and cafés.

Mr Lawrence said: “The tenants on Smithfield Market have got long leases, protected tenancies and we are here by Royal Charter. The City needs an act of parliament if they wanted to move us, and there won’t be any MP who wants to get their fingers burnt on this – make no mistake about that.”

Smithfield is the last remaining wholesale market in Britain that dates back to the Medieval period – livestock or meat has been traded on the site for more than 1,000 years.

It was established as a cattle market by means of a royal charter in 1631.

Mr Lawrence said: “The City is treating the tenants of Smithfield with contempt. Imagine our suppliers and bankers hearing about this? What confidence does that give them to support the tenants of Smithfield Market? It’s disgraceful.”

The City claim that the “current facilities and trading environments” of Billingsgate, New Spitalfields and Smithfield markets are “outdated and unsustainable”.

The Tribune reported last year how tonnes of concrete had collapsed from the roof of one of the buildings in Smithfield and emergency netting had been put in place around the site to protect workers.

But Mr Lawrence insists that the City should have spent more money over the years maintaining the market.

The five buildings that make up the original Smithfield covered market were built in the 19th century. The current meat traders are mostly concentrated in the two listed buildings known as the East and West Markets, split by the Grand Avenue.

Next to the East and West Markets is the Poultry Market, which burnt down in the 1950s before it was rebuilt.

The Museum of London have announced plans to redevelop the Poultry Market, the General Market and the Annex buildings in a multimillion-pound move from their current home in the Barbican.

It is understood that the City paid around £100million for the Dagenham Docks area in late 2018. The site is due to open in 2027.

A City spokesman said: “The City of London Corporation is committed to securing the future of our historic markets at Billingsgate, New Spitalfields and Smithfield.

“The co-location of the three wholesale markets at Dagenham Dock will create a 21st-century, wholesale food location for London and the UK. It will provide market tenants with modern facilities in a location that offers room for growth while also providing an economic boost to Barking & Dagenham.

“As part of this programme, we are engaging with our existing tenants as well as other stakeholders across the three markets. Our number one priority is to maintain a top-quality market environment that continues to serve Londoners and is fit for the tenants of tomorrow, as well as today.”

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