New Covent Garden Market — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:57 pm on 2 July 2019.

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Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry 3:57, 2 July 2019

I agree. I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution and the way she represents the market in this place. I regularly speak to various of my old friends—I think they are friends; lots of them were customers or people I bought things from, so perhaps they are business associates—and I know that she is a very good representative of the market who talks to the tenants a great deal and represents their concerns wisely.

We are squeezing a big, successful business into a smaller space. The market had a massive footprint, and when I was trading there a lot of it was not used effectively, so it is possible to understand some sort of consolidation, but the scale we are talking about now makes that an interesting prospect. At a time when the turnover of the businesses in the market is growing, it seems odd to reduce the market’s footprint. Although the tenants are not over-happy with the overall reduction in size, they have tried their best to make it work. Various pieces of land have already been sold off, and in some instances they are sold on again. The market area is to be reduced even more. Among other changes, the temporary flower market site will be incorporated into the main site. In essence, we are squeezing a quart into a pint pot and hoping that the businesses inside the pot do not get squeezed.

Over the years, the tenants have repeatedly raised concerns through their association that the proposed end-state configuration of the market that the authority is now engaged in building will not be able to operate successfully because the proposed layout and footprint simply will not accommodate the vehicle movements needed for the market to operate effectively and efficiently. The tenants of the market are very knowledgeable—and, indeed, vocal—about how the business of the market works, and their opinions about whether what is proposed will work should carry significant weight. They have retained the services of a specialist transport consultant, who advises that there are significant failings in the transport analysis and planning undertaken by the market authority. The Minister is well aware that the market authority is a public body that has a statutory duty to provide functioning market facilities and prevent traffic congestion on the market land.

The market authority is currently redeveloping the market under a contract entered into with the developer, Vinci and St Modwen Properties, in 2015. The developer commenced the main works in October 2018. Since then, an independent logistics consultant, instructed by the tenants association, has confirmed that, as designed, the market will not be operationally viable in parking and loading/unloading terms, and will therefore constrain the businesses it contains. The market authority has allowed the developer to start the construction works, but there are problems, because the tenants say that that has happened without the authority having taken the tenants’ logistics consultant’s advice about the design, and without its waiting to see the final report prepared by Arup, a logistics consultant instructed by the developer, which confirmed that the new market, as presently designed, would not be operationally viable. Arup’s final report said that to make it viable certain measures identified in a list contained in that report would need to be adopted. I am told that Arup had been asked by the market authority to use transport data that was known to be out of date and inaccurate when assessing the viability of the options, but it still came to that quite drastic conclusion.

The market authority has power under its contract with the developer to require changes to be made to the design of the market, but it has yet to decide to follow up Arup’s advice. Instead, the developer presses on with the works as they stand. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Minister is comfortable with that decision. I also wonder whether the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been provided with a report from a logistics consultant—or any report—confirming that, contrary to the view of either the tenants association’s logistics consultant or Arup itself, the current design will be operationally viable. If so, would it be possible for the tenants to see it, to give them some comfort that these changes will work?

This is where my old life as a tenant of the market comes into its own, because battles over rent were legendary back in the day when I worked in the market: in April this year, the market authority sent notices to terminate the tenancies of market tenants and threatened, in a letter from its solicitors, that if tenants did not immediately agree to give up their statutory right to apply for a new tenancy and agree to vacate their units at the expiry of the notice, they would not be offered tenancy of a unit in the newly developed market and would have to depart the market instead.