Regenerating Covent Garden

This morning Mark met Gary Marcuccilli, Managing Director of Covent Garden London, to discuss plans to regenerate Covent Garden, one of London’s most famous locations.

In August 2006, property company, Capco, purchased the 750 000sq ft Covent Garden estate for £421.5 million and became the largest single property owner in the Covent Garden area. It set up subsidiary, Covent Garden London, to look after its new portfolio and help revitalise the area with the aim of making Covent Garden a world class district for Londoners and visitors unequalled in its mix of retail, dining, entertainment and heritage.

Covent Garden began life in the Middle Ages as the kitchen garden of the Convent of St Peter in Westminster. Over the next three centuries, this ‘convent garden’ became a major source of fruit and vegetables in London. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, some of the land was granted to the Lord High Admiral Baron Russell and was later given by royal patent in perpetuity to the Earl of Bedford.

The 4th Earl of Bedford, Francis Russell, redeveloped the land, creating the first public square in the country with the help of Inigo Jones, an important architect with an enthusiasm for Palladian architecture. Jones designed the Piazza after being influenced by many of Italy’s public squares, and arcaded houses were built to the north and east.

Eventually the wealthy people residing in the these houses began to tire of the lack of privacy and intrusion caused by the public square and the expanding food market, and moved to more desirable properties elsewhere in the capital. This, coupled with an increase in theatres and public houses, caused Covent Garden to gain a rather less salubrious reputation.

In 1830, the Piazza’s main building was erected and the market began to extend into houses and shops in the surrounding streets up to Seven Dials, which was then a notorious slum.

Having developed into the country’s principal fruit and vegetable market, Covent Garden’s central London location became impractical. In 1973 it was relocated to Vauxhall and the market buildings and surrounding properties were left empty.

Major development proposals were put forward which would have seen the market buildings destroyed and replaced by through highways, hotels and conference centres. Covent Garden was saved, however, by a strong campaign orchestrated by local residents and as a result, the area was renovated to become the busy shopping area we know today.

Covent Garden London now hopes to improve the Piazza and revitalise the surrounding area in time for the 2012 Olympics to ensure it lives up to what is expected of such an important shopping, cultural and entertainment district. The company also recognises that many Londoners have turned their backs on Covent Garden in recent years, with the area being seen more as a tourist trap than a destination for those living in the capital.

Paving, landscaping, security and lighting are to be improved, with new passageways and courtyards opened up to reduce crowding. In the main market building itself, there are plans for an organic farmers’ market to take Covent Garden back to its roots and the Apple Market will be enhanced as a showcase of British handicraft. On the corner of Russell Street and the East Piazza, a boutique hotel is planned and the retail mix will be altered to encourage high quality, unique shops into the area.

To encourage Londoners to reappraise and reengage with Covent Garden, the quality of restaurants will be improved to rival other areas of the capital, and a retail offer distinct to the West End will be supported – fresh food markets, unique boutiques, independent brands and handcrafted goods. The prominence of street entertainers will be maintained and more events will be planned in the Piazza such as the successful Fashion Fringe.

Working with the Royal Opera House and Somerset House, Covent Garden London hopes to use its £130 million redevelopment budget to create a cultural and historical quarter deserving of its place in the centre of London.

Whilst emphasising his inability to influence local planning decisions, Mark assured Mr Marcuccilli that he is keen to provide a voice to constituents who have concerns or opinions on the regeneration of this important area. He is looking forward to seeing the plans progress and hopes that Covent Garden London succeeds in ensuring that the area provides an exciting experience to Londoners and visitors alike, maintaining its distinct vibrancy and enhancing its connection with its colourful history.