The City of London has agreed to buy back London's historic Smithfield Market for £34.6m, City A.M. understands.
The Victorian general market site has lain empty for more than 20 years after several failed attempts to redevelop it. However, it could become the new home for the Museum of London if the sale goes through.
The City of London is understood to have been given the go-ahead to buy the site at a meeting by its main decision-making body The Court of Council last week. A potential sale comes after controversial plans by its current owners TIAA Henderson Real Estate, nee Henderson Global Investors, were thrown out by Whitehall last year.
Henderson wanted to revamp the market – and the adjacent Fish Market and Red House – into a £160m mixed-use scheme with offices, shops and restaurants.
The decision was turned down by former secretary of state for communities and local government Eric Pickles, despite receiving backing from the Mayor of London, English Heritage and the City of London.
Opponents of the scheme including conservation group Save Britain’s Heritage and the Victorian Society claimed that Henderson’s plans “to gut” the buildings would destroy the heritage character of the site.
The move was a blow to Henderson, which is understood to have invested millions of pounds into the upkeep of the site, which includes neighbouring triangular Fish Market and Red House cold store, as well as the tunnels used by Crossrail below.
An acquisition would be subject to the City of London, which already owns the freehold to Smithfield Market, having a bid accepted. Henderson could still choose to go back to the drawing board to put forward revised plans for the site.
Henderson and the City of London declined to comment. The Victorian Society, which opposed the Henderson's plans, said the Museum of London’s ambition to move to Smithfield was potentially great news both for the future of the building and the museum.
Director Christopher Costelloe, said:
Relocating the Museum into Smithfield Market would also appear to be the kind of ‘beneficial use’ envisaged by the Secretary of State during the public inquiry. However, our stance will ultimately depend on the detailed plans. We look forward to working with the Museum to help ensure that any alterations to the buildings preserve what makes them special.