The City of London has bought a huge plot of land next to Dagenham Dock currently occupied by a power station, in a preemptive strike to stop other bidders getting their hands on the land.

The purchase is because the City of London is looking for a replacement site for its three markets, Smithfield meat market, New Spitalfields fruit and veg market, and Billingsgate fish market, which it plans to merge into a single location.

New Spitalfields moved to Leyton in 1991, while Billingsgate moved to the Canary Wharf area in 1982 — only Smithfield remains in its 800 year old home.

The site in Dagenham is currently occupied by a gas powered electricity generator, the Barking Reach Power Station, but it closed in 2014, after less than two decades of operations, and is currently being demolished.

Although the City hasn’t agreed on a location, the 42-acre site in Dagenham is large enough, but was also being eyed up by a number of other bidders. The City in buying the land is ensuring that it has the option to use it for the food markets if none of its other sites proves suitable.

Although the price paid has not been disclosed, it’s thought to be in the region of £100 million – which is a lot just to ensure other people can’t buy a plot of land you might want to use, maybe.

They can always sell it later if they move the food markets elsewhere.

Its location could be a key factor, being close to the A13 main road, the railway, and the river for deliveries.

Wherever the markets end up, in order to move them to a new site, an Act of Parliament would be needed as the markets are still governed by some ancient laws.

When vacated, the Billingsgate site is reported to have the potential for 1,500 new homes, and New Spitalfields for around 1,200 homes. Smithfield is likely to become offices.

A consultation on the final location is expected to open next year.

Whatever location is chosen, London’s ancient food markets will be on the move once more, and the sight of butchers working around Farringdon will fade into memory.


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  1. Melvyn says:

    When you look at the site of Billingsgate Fish Market and compare it to Canary Wharf next door you can see how the site could be worth billions developed in a similar way to Canary Wharf whether for housing or offices.

    In addition, TFL have recently announced they are looking to develop the Poplar DLR Depot which is opposite Billingsgate/ Canary Wharf in order to accommodate new fixed length trains then a development above the depot.

    Put these together with a new enclosed Poplar DLR Station and burying the road between the Depot and Billingsgate/ Canary Wharf you have potentially a hugh site .

    Development of Smithfield will be more difficult as I can’t see demolition being an option yet the site is a big one and unlike the original Covent Garden Smithfield doesn’t attract as many people especially at weekends and so a General Market may not be as popular as the City of London is far quieter at weekends than the west end which is near to Covent Garden.

    • RouteW15 says:

      Whilst the West End is more popular than The City currently there is potential for this with the new Elizabeth Line Station and extended Thameslink connections at Farringdon.

      Farringdon doesn’t just have to be a interchange it can become a destination with smart land use at Smithfield

  2. JP says:

    What’s going to happen to the pub? The one with the lovely old dears serving gorgeous greasy hangover cures for the all nighters and beers galore? Primarily for the market trafers to slake their thirst, of course!

    • Nigel Headley says:

      Historic rights meant that when training back in the 70s and possibly to this day, Barts Hospital medical school bar used a geographic link to the nearby Smithfield market licensing protocols. This meant that it stayed open usefully into the night and was popular with other medical schools keen to persue their studies at that location.

  3. Peter versus Pan says:

    Demolition is the only option making it worthwhile to move markets out of Central London, so politicians always thwart it. Old Billingsgate, Old Covent Garden, Old Spitalfields, all were moved largely on account of the value of the site, which was then ceremoniously destroyed by listing the old buildings. At least, in the case of Smithfield, this was done in advance, so that people know where they stand.

    Smithfield sits on top of the Snow Hill Tunnel, which is in a poor condition and not tall enough for an overhead power supply when railway electrification if finally brought up to date. Drivers on Thameslink must retract their pentagraphs.

    Additional room for railway tracks at that location could also help a lot with future increases in capacity at vastly lower cost than Crossrail, for example taking the Metropolitan Line deeper underground from Baker Street, taking it along its current alignment, then along the Thameslink alignment and letting it take over some long suburban route out of London Bridge, thus freeing massive capacity on the subsurface lines.
    The Smithfield site would still be available for offices after such a development, just like land over Liverpool Steet and Cannon Street Stations was developed.

    • Jeremy says:

      Politicians don’t always thwart demolition. Demolition is not the only way to realise the value of an asset. There are reasons other than land value to move the markets – a desire for modern facilities, more space or easier road access would all be examples.

      Not everywhere can, or should, be a skyscraper. The tunnel beneath Smithfield works fine. There’s no reason to think the lines south of London will be converted to other means of electrification in our lifetime.

      Retunnelling/rerouting the Metropolitan line is exceedingly unlikely. You’re right that money could be made from oversite development, but is money the only consideration?

    • Phil says:

      Overhead lines do exist through the Snow hill tunnel. Northbound trains raise their pantographs at City Thameslink. Southbound still drop them at Farringdon, I believe this is so that in the event of failure it is easier to recover rather than not being able to use the overhead lines.

    • Peter versus Pan says:

      Thank you, Phil, for the information about the catenary. This is interesting!

  4. Peter versus Pan says:

    I don’t know how old you are! I am 60. MANY THINGS won’t happen during my lifetime, but the relocation of Smithfield would probably require decisions that people will need to live with into the middle of the 22nd century.

    With delays to the Northern Line extension, by now one must suspect that Crossrail 1 will be known as the Elizabeth Line, Crossrail 2 as Good Money after Bad, and Crossrail 3 and all other projects scrapped. That is no reason to block all options for a century or more.

    I know of other possible advantages for relocating markets, having worked in New Covent Garden Market throughout the 1980s. Moving New Spitlesfield AGAIN would present few problems for customers, as New Covent Garden and Western International (where I have also worked) serve parts of London from which Dagenham is difficult to reach. Smithfield is unique. Making butchers from, say, Fulham, buy in Dagenham has drawbacks, to say the least.

    Not everything needs to, or should, be a skyscraper, but then not everything is in Central London. With City of London land prices, a skyscraper will (almost) invariably be the only sensible option.

    There are indeed other considerations than money, and Smithfield isn’t quite as ugly as Borough Market (which is also listed and in the way). It is an outdated, unhealthy place to work. What else is there, besides aesthetics (and many skyscrapers look good, too)? Going back to absolute monarchy and doing everything in order to please the next king? What else? Surely love, family, Brexit (for or against), have nothing to do with architecture.

    There are few things more valuable than being persuaded that one was wrong, so if there are any important matters other than money that I have failed to take into account, I would love to learn what they are! It took the IRA to free us from Leadenhall Market, also listed, and make the Dildo (no, the Gherkin) possible, which (for the record) is not a good skyscraper, but still gave the London economy a boost that the terrorist bombers will certainly regret to this day. THEY must be in favour of just listing everything, now.

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