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7th May 2009: FoQM write to Mayor of London and the GLA

Below is the letter FoQM sent to London Mayor Boris Johnson asking for him to reject the application.

Dear Mayor Johnson,  

We strongly believe that the proposed development would be detrimental to the people of Newham and a threat to Queen’s Market itself.   It will have significant negative impacts and falls very short in providing for local needs.

These include: the provision of affordable healthy food; local employment and enterprise; affordable social housing and active play space for children; an attractive, healthy environment for Upton Park; the reduction in traffic and CO2 emissions; the prevention of anti-social behaviour.   Newham Council’s report confirms a list of negative impacts (housing mix, open space, loss of light, health, education, wind, noise, air quality, transport, parking) but chooses to brush them aside.  

Your Stage 1 report stated that the development is not compliant with the London Plan. Even if minor changes have been made since then, we believe that the scheme overall does not comply with the spirit of the London Plan which aims to improve the quality of life for everyone and give extra help to disadvantaged Londoners.   From our own and independent research we have found that a viable alternative proposal to improve and renovate the current market is wanted and welcomed by the majority of people in the area. However, the current proposal will prevent the creation of any alternative scheme.   Newham Council, in its unwavering support of the development under Mayor Robin Wales, has been unwilling to listen to the concerns of thousands of local people - and we hope that you will do so. 
Friends of Queen’s Market
  Friends of Queen’s Market has worked together to represent the views of hundreds of people over a six year period since St. Modwen Properties showed an interest in the site of the 110-year-old street market. During this time 12,000 signed a petition against the developer’s involvement on the site: the petition was handed to the then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.   Subsequently 200 people marched down Green Street to protest against the Council / developers plans for the market and 2,600 letters of objection have been sent in the past year. Newham has never seen this scale of objections to a planning proposal, showing the strength of feeling it has caused.   We recognise that there have been minor changes to the development and some revised plans, but we do not think that these cancel out the overall unsuitability of the scheme.    

The successful market
  Last year Queen’s Market was runner-up in the BBC Radio Four Food & Farming Award for best food market in the UK. The judges looked for ‘excellent produce’ and ‘making a difference to the local community’ and described the market as the ‘throbbing bustling hub of a truly multi-ethnic area’.   As you saw on your visit, Queen’s Market is very successful and provides a specific vital service selling affordable healthy food, as well as other goods, to a poor community. Both Newham Council’s Equalities Impact Assessment and the New Economics Foundation study (‘The World on a Plate’ 2006) acknowledge that affordable prices for the shopper are predicated on the current sustainable rent levels for stallholders.   Queen’s Market also provides a recognised and important social space open to all, where diverse communities come together. Community cohesion is the heart of traditional street markets and in a borough with the kind of demographics of Newham this is vital and fragile resource. The importance of this should not be underestimated.   Developer St Modwen has no statutory duty to continue operating the market in this way and we do not see how their plans show due concern for retaining the special character of the current market, or due regard for the site itself.   In this respect the development would be contrary to PPS6 which requires local authorities to retain and enhance existing markets - surely not just in name, but by supporting and enabling the traders who make up these markets.

Affordable rent   Affordable rent is key to the current market’s success. We question St Modwen’s promise to freeze stallholders’ rent for five years at the time the market closes: without a specific figure the freeze guarantee is meaningless. Rents could rise from now on, as they have been doing. Shop owners have in fact received letters from St. Modwen asking for a 100%+ increase in rents.   After the five year period, rents could, and from evidence of other countrywide markets will, rise to unmanageable levels for the current traders.   We note that service charges will be imposed and not frozen. These charges will be to RICS standards and ‘transparent’ but that guarantee again gives no reassurance of sustainable charges that enable the current traders to keep going.   These extra costs will fall on the heads of local families, feeding large families on some of the lowest wages in London.    

Temporary arrangements for the market
  We are very concerned that the temporary arrangements are not viable and will result in a serious loss of traders, immediately damaging the market before it re-opens. The temporary period would last three years (Council report 7.6).   Pitches will reduce from 150 to 116, and nearly all shop spaces will not be temporarily relocated. Only 44 traders’ car parking spaces will be provided. So we are concerned that overall there are not enough temporary places for stallholders and traders, their cars and vans and the safe storage of goods.   Half of the temporary stalls would be put out along the main high street, Green Street, a less practical space by far and not conducive to social gathering. Note that this is also the football crowd’s route from Upton Park tube to West Ham stadium.   We can supplement the scant information about the temporary arrangements with our notes from a conversation at the GLA on September 8th between Jenny Jones, Nick Kay of St Modwen, Saif Osmani and Pauline Rowe of FoQM and others:  

1.       St Modwen states that some stallholders wish to take a “sabbatical”, however this seems unlikely and unwise in the current climate. We are concerned that the reduction is beginning already with vacant pitches not being filled. 

2.      We were told that shop owners will trade as stallholders in the temporary market. This would increase the pressure on stallholders’ places and is not viable for many of the shops, eg hairdressers and beauty parlours, causing their demise.  

3.       We were told that there will be no safe storage space and that goods will have to be transported daily, with safe storage in traders’ vehicles. Only 44 parking spaces have been allocated to all traders and this potentially further reduces the number of stalls and shops operating.  

4.      The temporary market will trade on two sites, one of which is invisible from the road. We understand that traders classified as ‘wholesale’ will be on the off-road site and that ‘wholesale’ refers to all the greengrocery stalls. (The term ‘wholesale’ is incorrect: Queen’s Market is not a wholesale market but a retail market where shoppers often buy in bulk, often for community celebrations and because it saves money.)  

5.      We believe that if the majority of greengrocery stalls are located together on this site and their number reduced it will deal a blow to the core of the market, reducing choice and the vast variety on offer and will endanger the supply of healthy, affordable food.    

The threat to shops
  Like many markets, the shops and the stalls in Queen’s Market are linked and provide a combined service. With shop rents already rising and the lack of provision for them in the temporary market, the plans directly threaten the existing network of 49 shops and 18 shop kiosks.   We believe this threat to local small and medium enterprises is inexcusable and against all policy directives for economic development.    

Affordable housing
  It is acknowledged that the quota of affordable and socially rented housing (16%) falls far short of requirements in spite of Newham’s high level of overcrowding and housing need. We would also like to point out the proposed demolition of 6 social rented houses on Tolpuddle Avenue, resulting in the provision of 27 not 33 new social rented homes in a total of 350 units.   The development continues the familiar over-provision of small 1-bed and 2-bed units – 89% of the total! This will not foster a long-term, balanced community and such developments already lie empty across East London.    

Design of the development
  The 31-storey tower and two 15-storey tower blocks are higher than anything nearby and the tower is taller so far than anything in Newham. Yet Upton Park is a low-rise residential area of family housing in Victorian and Georgian streets. With its overbearing scale the design returns to 1960’s-style models of housing and we do not consider it will improve prospects for the area, as claimed. Rather, it will bring familiar problems with it.   We feel the overall architectural language is contrary to the creation of high-quality permeable space. Unlike 1960’s blocks these towers do not have open spaces at their core, at ground level, but are hard up against a local high street and dense residential streets. The featureless buildings will change, dominate and overshadow the townscape and neighbourhood. We agree with CABE’s criticisms of the ‘bulky and overbearing’ appearance.   The architecture in no way celebrates the character, tradition and ethnicity of the market and does not create a feeling of community and ownership around the site. The historic market is buried inside the development, changing its status as the area’s key destination. The block has no identification as a traditional London street market or ‘market hall’ as described. We strongly disagree that the 31-storey tower is an appropriate ‘landmark for the market’.    NB We agree that the design and appearance of the current market should certainly be improved in this regard.    

Open space and active play space   This scheme does not have nearly enough adequate play space for children or a consideration of their needs in the area. ‘Active’ play space is needed for the projected number of children of all ages, rather than open areas to loiter in.   Elevated landscaped areas have been put on the roof of the market at third floor level, surrounded by the very large-scale towers, with very small pockets of designated play space. The play area falls within walkways of the users and playing equipment is not indicated.   The Council’s report confirms wind funelling effects and the potential difficulty of rooting large trees (protection from wind) on the third floor roof.   The public space created at ground level around the market is meagre and leaves room for dead areas or ‘negative spaces’ that could encourage anti-social behaviour when the market is closed.   There are currently four trees, a bike parking area and outdoor communal seating area outside the elderly people’s housing block Hamara Ghar. This small yet much used ‘civic’ space and trees will disappear, redesignated for temporary stalls. Its accessibility is important for the residents of the old people’s home: walking up large ramps to greenery at third floor level is inappropriate and inconsiderate to the existing users.   We see that nearby Priory Park is meant to provide the green space for the development. The small park is already well used locally and is no substitute for direct access to green space and civic space for the 1000+ new residents of  the high density development.    

CO2 emissions and traffic
  As the GLA report states, the scheme does not go far enough with responsible ‘green’ design. It also unaccountably doubles car parking space, from 150 to 308 cars, which will add to Green Street’s congestion and pollution. This will not make the area a more pleasant place to live. The development does not alleviate Green Street of the traffic problems which continue to make shoppers stay away during peak shopping times of the week.    

Section 106 and benefits to Newham
  ‘Regeneration benefits’ have driven the Council to approve the scheme, but regeneration means different things to different people. We fear that the local community is at risk of being priced out of this urban regeneration project.   Newham Council has accepted St Modwen’s claim that it cannot afford to pay the required S106 contributions or provide sufficient affordable housing (its total contributions towards health care and education would be £100,000). However, we do not believe that the developer’s financial interests should come before those of the already disadvantaged local community, especially when the scheme itself would have so many negative impacts on health, economy and wellbeing.   If the developers cannot build a beneficial scheme which also incorporates sufficient financial contributions then it must be unsustainable and should be completely re-thought.    

  Mr Johnson, we ask that you use your powers to refuse this planning permission, in support of the local community in Upton Park and all those who use and benefit from the unique Queen’s Market. We believe there is ample evidence that this scheme is not the right solution to improving the fortunes of the area for everyone.   You would create the opportunity for a widely-supported, viable and beneficial improvement scheme and remove the present uncertainty about the future of the market, allowing traders get on with their job. We believe this would be in the public interest as well as the right thing to do in this financial climate.   You would help to retain the historic Queen’s Market, a key destination in the East End and a necessary part of London and its people’s identity as a whole.      

Yours sincerely,    

Friends of Queen’s Market