In its special report on the Covent Garden Market Authority of March 2001 the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture recommended that the Government, together with the Greater London Authority and the Corporation of London instigate an independent review to take a rapid, rational and strategic view of the provision of wholesale markets in London. In June last year, jointly with the Corporation of London, we commissioned Mr Nicholas Saphir to undertake this review and his report was published on 22 November. This statement puts on record the Government's response to the main recommendations of the report.THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE REPORTThe report concluded that markets perform an important but reduced function in the distribution of perishable foods. In order to meet the changing needs of the market, and especially of the catering supply trade, the existing markets should be consolidated to provide three composite markets each providing facilities for the sale of fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, so allowing catering customers to meet all their needs in one market. New Covent Garden Market at Nine Elms should provide a particular service to the central London catering trade and should develop its facilities accordingly. The other two consolidated markets should be New Spitalfields Market in East London and Western International Market, near Heathrow.There should be no central planning, management or liaison body for London markets but legislation which restrains trade and limits competition between markets should be removed. This would allow the markets to compete with each other and so generate an efficient response to the needs of the market.CONSULTATIONThe Government have undertaken a public consultation on these recommendations and have published a summary of the responses they received. We have considered these responses and taken forward discussions with a number of interested parties including the Greater London Authority and the London Borough of Wandsworth. Useful discussion has taken place with the Corporation of London before, during and following the preparation of the Saphir report. However, despite agreement on much of the analysis there is no consensus on a single way forward. The Corporation's proposal to develop a single composite market at New Spitalfields, serving central London, is a significant departure from the recommendations of the report.
THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE
We welcome and generally agree with the analysis offered by the report. We accept in particular the view that the London markets should be allowed to develop in competition with each other to provide services which are well adapted to the present and future needs of the Capital and especially of its catering trade. We recognise that some of the legislation which governs the markets may inhibit such development and are sympathetic to the view that such legislation should be amended or repealed as the opportunity arises. Within the existing framework of law we believe that markets should be given as much freedom as possible to meet the needs of their customers and to take initiatives to broaden their role as resources allow.
At the same time, we recognise the important role played by markets in the economies of the parts of London in which they are situated. This is also recognised in the Mayor of London's draft London plan. The existence of the markets and their impact on the local economy and environment will need to be taken into account in wider decisions on economic and town and country planning, traffic management and other issues.
In further discussions about the markets, DEFRA will be guided by the following considerations:
The London markets should be allowed to develop to meet the needs of their customers and tenants without undue intervention from Government. Together with the Corporation of London we have taken an important first step in setting out the way forward by commissioning the Saphir Report. Whilst we agree with the conclusion of the report that there is no need for central direction we greatly welcome the interest of the Greater London Authority in undertaking further studies on the options for the markets in London's future economic development and the impact of these on planning, transport and other issues. It is for the market owners to plan for the future of each market in consultation with the relevant local authorities, the Greater London Authority, the London Development Agency and other stakeholders. We are ready to play our part as consultees in this process.
It is for the owners of the markets to determine the scope for future investment and development in response to market stimuli. Market owners will need to make provision for such investment from the earnings of the markets or from other sources to which they have access.
In relation to New Covent Garden Market, in which DEFRA has a direct interest, it remains the Government's policy to disengage as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made. In so doing, however, we shall aim to secure arrangements which will maintain the Market as a going concern which can both accommodate the businesses which are established there and allow it to develop as a consolidated market as envisaged by the Saphir Report.
We see no need for DEFRA to exercise any direct control over the use of the market premises at Nine Elms. Where the legislation governing New Covent Garden Market requires the Secretary of State to grant permission for new forms of trading we propose normally to grant such permission, subject to consideration of the circumstances of each case.
To that end DEFRA Ministers have already indicated that they are minded to approve any application to allow trading in meat and fish at New Covent Garden Market subject to consideration of the circumstances of each case; we see no reason now that consultation on the Saphir Report has finished to further delay that decision. This is in the knowledge that the Corporation of London, or its tenants at other London Wholesale Markets, may seek to challenge the legal validity of such a decision (based on the medieval restriction of trade to six and two third miles from a chartered London market). This may therefore be a matter on which the Courts will be called upon to decide.
We have no proposals at present to amend the legislation governing markets generally or to promote amendments to the legislation governing specific London markets (which would need to come from the relevant market owners)
As far as New Covent Garden Market is concerned, we would need agreement in principle on the future ownership and management of the market as a basis for any legislation to remove or modify the present responsibilities of the Secretary of State and the Covent Garden Market Authority.
Centrally to the future of the market, we are ready to consider proposals from any source for the future development of New Covent Garden Market and its site, which provide for the continuation of market activity on the site. Proposals for the injection of private finance into the site have been and will be welcome.
This statement is without prejudice to the consideration of any planning application relating to the future development of any London wholesale market.