Time Out still believes that Spitalfields needs two food markets within spitting distance of each other. The media juggernaut, which has secured a lease for Time Out Market Waterloo with a slated opening for 2021, will present new plans to Tower Hamlets Council two years after it rejected a license application for the site at 106 Commercial Street.
Those plans covered 17 restaurants, four bars, and space for around 450 visitors at a time; new plans propose 16 restaurants, four bars, and space for 360 seated visitors. Additional toilets, a lift, an extended lobby, and a new roof design which “ensures that the visual character of the Conservation Area is preserved” are also on the agenda. There were over 70 objections to the original plans for the market, largely around the bar license conditions that would have seen it remain open until 11:30 p.m. on weeknights in a largely residential area already saturated with restaurants, bars, and pubs.
It also sits within a Cumulative Impact Zone (CIZ.) This means that operators have to overcome a stricture known as “rebuttable presumption”: any new license must demonstrably prove that it will not negatively impact public life, nuisance, or crime. It is a rule that which critics say is designed to curtail the night time economy in the city, and has been particularly criticised in Hackney after the council ignored local residents’ and businesses’ protests when voting in restrictive licensing policies and early curfews for new restaurants, bars, and pubs.
These plans are being resubmitted in the context of a city with both a growing appetite for food halls, and a growing understanding of the reality of spaces often airily characterised as “democratic” or “for everyone.” Market Halls Victoria and Fulham will soon be joined by Market Halls West End; Arcade Food Theatre has opened below empty luxury apartments at Centre Point; Kerb has opened Seven Dials Market; Bang Bang Oriental Food Hall succeeded Oriental City in Colindale; Old Spitalfields Market’s The Kitchens, which opened in 2017, is right across the road from Time Out’s proposed site; Eataly is coming to Broadgate. There is momentum.
The cherrypicking gamification of otherwise distinct restaurants is appealing for diners; the reduced overheads and start-up costs and nominally guaranteed footfall are appealing for restaurants; most of all, though, a whacking great increase in property value is appealing for landlords. The flipside of this is how dispensable restaurants become to food hall operators when, in moving into such a space, brand presence takes priority over physical presence; how that property value in turn encourages speculators to raise prices and in so doing price out existing residents; turning potential community spaces into “theme parks of fashionable food” for the most privileged and well-off. Given Time Out’s emphasis on “editorial curation” of restaurants, this will not be easy to assuage.
It’s also on an expansion push. Lisbon, the original, launched in 2014, marked by its location in a non-residential area, and then things went quiet. That’s not true now. Five markets have opened or are slated to open in the USA and Canada this year: Miami, New York, Boston, Montreal, and Chicago. Dubai is next, in 2020, Waterloo in 2021 and Prague in 2022. It is doing some work on the ground in east London, with the second of two public exhibitions tomorrow, Saturday 28 September, in which local residents are invited to voice concerns and offer suggestions — of course, it’s hard to police who actually turns up, and which postcode they reside in. There’s an online feedback form. Consultation, of a kind, is happening.
On information boards for that exhibition, Time Out describes the site as a “waste” of a wonderful building, and perhaps that’s hard to argue with — but a waste for whom? For the community, or for whoever picks up the potential profits?