28 December 2013 – Thoughts from Alan Bennett

I have just been reading the writer Alan Bennett’s diary of the year written for the London Review of Books (9 Jan edition) and I was struck by one of the entries where he reflects on how markets are affected by UK planning  – he also mentions the current campaign to save some of Smithfield Market from development. Extracts from his personal reflections raise a few issues about the future of England’s market hall buildings:

21 July: Now find myself enrolled in the campaign to save some of Smithfield Market from developers, the culprits the planning committee of the Corporation of London. Who are these people? Where do they live that they so blithely sanction the wrecking of yet another corner of London? […] The decision about Smithfield will presumably end up on the desk of the planning minister, Eric Pickles, a native of Bradford. In the 1960s Bradford […] embarked on a programme of wholesale destruction which included their delightful covered market in Kirkgate. Bradford’s neighbour and rival, Leeds, was slightly more canny and did not demolish its own city market, which is now, forty years later, one of the show-places of the city.

Although Alan Bennett appreciates the splendour of the Kirkate Market in Leeds, this is also struggling to determine its future.  Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market has been set up as a new group ‘for everyone – customers, traders, citizens and visitors – who love Kirkgate Market and want it to survive and flourish in its present form and not become yet another bland and soulless shopping centre’.  There is a need to consider what implications these threats to public markets have, not only for urban design and  public space, but also for the preservation of ‘alternative’ sources of fresh food, wrapped up with  food and identity and with how the urban food system feeds us.


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