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Image by SAVE Britain's Heritage

Image by SAVE Britain’s Heritage

This week saw the current proposals for the £160 million development of Smithfield Market with shops and offices rejected by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, following a public inquiry.

The magazine Building Design reported Pickles made direct criticism of the owner of the buildings, City of London Corporation, for ‘deliberate neglect’. What is interesting in the case of the Smithfield Market scheme is that the group of buildings is not listed, but were stated by Pickles to be ‘heritage assets which contributed strongly to the distinctive character of the Smithfield Conservation Area’. (Building Design 8th July 2014).

In short Pickles noted the scheme proposed extensive damage to the heritage asset of Smithfield Market such that economic, social and environmental benefits would be undermined as to not represent sustainable development.

This outcome demonstrates the consideration given to heritage in its role in sustainable development in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It also sends a clear message to owners of heritage assets of their responsibility to our collective heritage.

Looking at these premises more broadly – the owner of a non-designated historic building could be in doubt over whether it is considered a ‘heritage asset’ or not, with consequent responsibilities this implies. With this indistinctive grey area – sometimes only tested late in the planning process – it is possible, as at Smithfield, for extensive design and development work to be carried out ‘at risk’.

The Smithfield Market example may come to signify a time for developers in similar situations to pause to examine its proposals to ensure it can make a strong case for sustainable development. Despite what seems a positive outcome for Smithfield will this high profile case in fact be viewed as an overall negative for development? Will remodelling of non-designated buildings start to be seen as a risk for investors and cause a slow down in this sector of construction?

Conversely this ‘power to the people’ outcome has stamped an authoritative tone on what can often feel a sense of helplessness by the typical bystander against the march of the developer. This will be a boost to all those campaigners around the country who until now may have been losing will-power at the numbness of heads and brick walls banging.

For information on the SAVE Smithfield General Market Campaign click here.