853 exclusive: Other traders are interested in taking on the empty Woolwich Public Market after Street Feast abandoned its street food market there, Greenwich Council has told this website.
The Public food and drink space opened in the dilapidated market in March 2018 after Street Feast, which also operates Model Market in Lewisham and Hawker House in Rotherhithe, signed a three-year lease to occupy the building.
But it closed suddenly at the beginning of this year, with botched electrical works and the delay to Crossrail being blamed for the shutdown.
While Street Feast asked for SE Londoners’ help in gaining permission to use the space, the company’s founder, Jonathan Downey, has been trading barbs with Public’s users on social media for asking why the company moved out. One was told to “piss off” for asking if the contract with Greenwich Council could be cancelled, while Downey told another that 853‘s report on the bungled works on the site was “total bollocks, ‘leaked’ by some self-serving idiot at the council”.
However, an investigation by 853 has established:
- That Greenwich Council sent an estimate for £20,000 to Street Feast to fix the electrics in the public market in January. The work has not been carried out
- Street Feast is not paying rent on the market and has a three-year lease, ending on 22 February 2021
- There is a break clause from 31 January 2020, but Street Feast has already begun to clear its equipment from the market
- It is likely to take six months to make the building safe to use, meaning that even if a new occupant came in immediately, the market could not come into use until 2020
The market, once a thriving part of Woolwich town centre before its 1980s downturn, faced demolition under controversial redevelopment plans. The council marketed the lease in October 2017, and an agreement was signed with New London Markets Ltd, a subsidiary of London Union, Street Feast’s parent company, on 23 February 2018, on the understanding that the building was likely to be knocked down afterwards, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. However, the market was made a Grade II listed building in October 2018, meaning the redevelopment plans will have to be substantially revised.
When Public opened in March 2018, it was seen as a personal triumph for Danny Thorpe, then deputy leader of the council, who had taken charge of the effort to bring Street Feast to the borough. Thorpe’s name was first on a list on a board at the back of the market thanking locals who had campaigned for Street Feast to arrive after the council’s own officers and the police had raised objections to parts of its licence application, causing Downey to threaten to pull out of the project. “I am a massive supporter of Street Feast. Regeneration is about place-making and not just shiny new buildings,” Thorpe told the licensing meeting that approved the scheme.
However, things started to go wrong in August 2018, when the opening of Crossrail – then scheduled for December 2018 – was delayed by a year. Then in December, the opening date was pushed back further. Footfall appears to have dropped during the colder months, too – Public was meant to be a year-round operation, while its counterpart in Lewisham, Model Market, only opens during the spring and summer.
Public closed suddenly in January, amid a flurry of rumours about maintenance issues, confirmed in February when 853 revealed that problems caused by electrical work carried out by Street Feast’s contractors needed to be fixed. Despite Downey describing it as “bollocks”, 853 has obtained the estimate sent by the council to Street Feast on 16 January, which includes work on emergency lighting, circuit boards, power sockets and cabling. “It is of utmost importance that the works are carried out by [redacted] as soon as possible,” an accompanying email from a council officer states. “Grateful if you could confirm if the work could be carried out?” The work was never done, and rumours of the closure began to spread a week later.
A council spokesperson told 853 yesterday: “Street Feast made it very clear to us that the main reason they chose not to re-open was that there was a significant drop in customers throughout the autumn and winter, which meant that many of the operators in the market were not making enough money.”
The spokesperson added: “If Street Feast were to continue to use the building, they would need to fix the works which were carried out incorrectly by their contractor. However, as Street Feast has indicated that they will not be re-opening, the works have not been carried out. The council, or another operator, will have to carry out the works before it can re-open.”
In April, one Twitter user asked Downey if he would cancel the lease so Greenwich Council could arrange for a new tenant. “If only it was as simple as you seem to be,” he responded. “Send me a cheque for £481,000 and I’ll do that straight away. Otherwise, please piss off.”
“We do not know how Mr Downey has calculated these figures,” the Greenwich spokesperson said.
Street Feast is, however, now removing its fixtures from the market, and in April a representative compiled a list of actions it would take to preserve what has now become a listed building while taking down its fittings. This was sent to 853 after a Freedom of Information request.
The council spokesperson said: “The lease contains a break option from 31 January 2020 and the Council has no other means to gain vacant possession before that date without the tenant’s agreement. We are very disappointed that we haven’t yet got possession of the market, as there are other traders that are interested in leasing the space.
“However, Street Feast has started to clear the building so we hope that it will be vacant sooner than 31 January 2020. Once the building is empty, essential works will need to be carried out before it can be used again, which could take around six months.”
Greenwich Council refused to release further correspondence with Street Feast or the lease on the building, saying it would damage its ability to do business in the future.
Neither Jonathan Downey nor Street Feast have responded to requests for comment.
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