Environmental Study

Background & Introduction

The study was commissioned by the Covent Garden Area Trust, with co-operation and financial support from English Heritage. Guardian Properties and the City of Westminster.

The Covent Garden Area Trust was established in 1988 and given specific powers and duties relating to the principal historic buildings which had formerly belonged to the Greater London Council (GLC), including the Central Market. It is a charitable body designed to protect and enhance the character of the area.

Since its restoration and reopening as a specialist shopping centre almost 15 years ago, Covent Garden Market has remained successful and highly visited: it is one of the chief tourist attractions in London. It remains the best example in England of the contribution which a renovated historic building can make to an area. At the same time this success produced pressures on the buildings and their immediate environment which have shown some signs of leading to a decline in quality.

This detailed study of the Central Market, the Piazza and the streets leading into it was therefore commissioned to produce a set of coherent recommendations relating to the facades of the buildings and the spaces around and between them. The brief asked for appropriate conservation of facades, street improvements, management of open spaces, sitting out areas, signage etc. In particular we are concerned to achieve a set of design guidelines to include furniture, signage, shopfronts, planters, street furniture etc.

In answering the brief, this comprehensive report has been produced which is also supported by technical plan proposals for each of the streets and spaces in the study area and display panels. The consultants’ team has found this a challenging and interesting assignment. The architectural quality of most of the buildings in the study area is high or very high, and they are mostly well maintained and cared for. At the same time there are many things needing to be done to strip away unsuitable accretions and show the area to its best advantage.

Implementing some of the recommendations should be relatively easy, but others will take time. The whole strategy will only become effective with the support and co-operation of the agencies which funded the study, together with other statutory agencies and landowners. Such a partnership approach as demonstrated by the commissioning of this project provides the best way of managing important historic areas.

A related project produced by this team for the Seven Dials Area of Covent Garden (1990 – 1995) has also shown that this approach can make a major contribution to a Conservation Area. The Seven Dials Monument Charity commissioned “The Environmental Handbook” for their area which has since stimulated inward investment, public and private sector partnerships, has been adopted by the local authority and is used in all local development control and appeal procedures.

One element of the success of such projects is local involvement. In all consultations with the many interests in Covent Garden, encouragement has been given, with a positive and friendly attitude throughout. These contributions have made the success of the project possible.