A fresh start for New Covent Garden Market site

Plans for the redevelopment of Nine Elms
Image caption The 57-acre site will provide residential housing as well as a new look market

Nearly half of all fruit and vegetables eaten in London, and nearly 75% of fresh flowers sold in the capital, start their journey from a corner of Wandsworth, according to the New Covent Garden Market Authority.

Now, there are ambitious plans to give the site at Nine Elms a major facelift as well as build thousands of new homes, plus shops and hotels.

The market currently sits on a sprawling 57-acre site but the £1bn redevelopment could mean it moves to a corner of the existing land freeing up space to build the homes.

Last week, housing minister Grant Shapps secured agreement for a £10bn release of public sector land to build 100,000 homes and redeveloping the Nine Elms site is a key part of the plan.

French firms Bouygues Construction and Vinci Construction are expected to put their separate bids in, to carry out the development project in July, before the proposals go before Wandsworth Council for formal planning approval.

Gary Marshall has run his own salad vegetable business from the halls of New Covent Garden Market for 30 years.

Wow factor

For him, work starts in the very early hours selling his goods to restaurants, cafes and hotels.

He says the time has come for a fresh start.

"Everybody, from the tenants to the landlords have all spoken about the new market," he told BBC London.

"It could be the most iconic market in England, if not the world. It's going to be phenomenal.

"At the moment we are the biggest wholesale market in the country already.

"This market is now getting tired - it's getting on for 40 years old. We need a wow factor.

"Of course, we'll lose some of the character but you have to move with the times and food and health safety are very important parts of our lives."

Two hundred traders base themselves at the market, employing more than 2,500 people.

The government-owned New Covent Garden Market Authority was set up in 1974 to oversee the move of the Covent Garden Market from its famous Westminster base to Nine Elms.

The authority is a statutory body that reports to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Central location

Chief executive Jan Lloyd said: "Thirty-seven years on the world has changed, the way that food is handled has changed and the buildings and the site are no longer fit for purpose.

"We don't make best use of the land. We can operate the same size market on a smaller footprint and we can give tenants the sort of facilities they need today."

Ms Lloyd said it was vital the market continued to trade in Wandsworth in south-west London.

Image caption Gary Marshall has been a trader at New Covent Garden Market for 30 years

"The key to the success of the businesses here is the proximity to central London," she said.

"We'd be less efficient if we moved out to the M25."

The redevelopment would be a phased build so tenants could keep trading.

As part of the redevelopment, land would be used to build new homes near Vauxhall Cross, and the soon to be built US Embassy.

Affordable housing

Residents nearby are, in the main, supportive of the plan as long as any new homes help those on a budget.

One said: "I can just about rent in this area but to actually buy here requires a deposit of about £70,000 to £80,000. We need affordable flats."

Another said: "I've just moved back to the area after three years away and I welcome the changes.

"There are some nice shops now and it feels like the area is being upgraded. It's nice, I like it."

It is hoped building work on the new market will start in 2013, with works completed five years later.

The New Covent Garden Market Authority makes its money by charging rent and service charges on the 250-odd traders and companies on the site.

By law, the authority must break even and receives no financial support from the government.

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