Under-threat Greenwich Market traders get backing from MP and council leader

Greenwich Market deserted
The pandemic left the market deserted for weeks

Greenwich’s MP and council leader have condemned planned rent rises on traders in Greenwich Market which they say could threaten the future of the tourist attraction.

Hot food sellers told The Guardian that they were originally asked to pay 60 per cent extra per day, while some drinks sellers had their rents doubled. The rises were later reduced to 30 per cent, while other traders were left fearing similar hikes.

Meanwhile, while shops around the edge of the market have had their rent deferred until October, the paper reported that property company Knight Frank, acting on behalf of the Greenwich Hospital charity, which owns the market, has demanded shops pay their six months’ arrears immediately.

The latest demand came despite a collapse in visitor numbers to the area because of the coronavirus pandemic, which left the market deserted for several weeks, and has reduced capacity and space for the stalls. Knight Frank had reportedly claimed the market was running at “a considerable loss” that was “not sustainable”.

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and council leader Danny Thorpe both wrote to Greenwich Hospital to call on them to withdraw the increases. Late on Wednesday, Thorpe said on social media that Knight Frank had contacted him and “it seems to suggest a U-turn” but he added: “The devil is of course in the detail.”

A crown charity, Greenwich Hospital owns the freehold to much of Greenwich town centre, including the market and Old Royal Naval College, where the hospital was sited until 1869. It operates sheltered housing for former seafarers, gives grants to naval charities and operates a private boarding school in Suffolk. The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, is its sole trustee.

In a letter to the charity’s director, Andrew Turner, Pennycook said the increase was “likely to push a number of traders over the edge” and was “very much at odds with your self-declared core value of compassion”.

Council leader Danny Thorpe then followed suit, signing a joint letter with deputy leader Denise Scott-McDonald to demand a meeting with Turner. “Your ill thought-through proposals threaten to kill off the market entirely, leaving a huge hole in our town centre and having a much wider impact than you perhaps appreciate,” he said.

“Greenwich Hospital Estates has a balance sheet which exceeds £300 million, a substantial amount of which I’m sure comes from Greenwich town centre, where I understand huge profits have been made on your assets and is clearly more well placed to survive this crisis than most. Surely, you should be considering using your substantial portfolio to support your loyal tenants in Greenwich, who have clearly played a huge role in your economic success and growth?”

Once reserved for wholesalers, Greenwich Market has been a tourist attraction since it hosted its first craft stalls in the mid-1980s. Rent levels have been a sore topic for many years, and Greenwich Hospital’s relationship with the council and locals plummeted 11 years ago when the charity planned to demolish part of the market area to build a boutique hotel. The proposal was rejected, but Greenwich Hospital then won an appeal to planning inspectors.

However, the scheme was later abandoned, with a smaller revamp of the market completed in 2016.

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