Million dollar makeover for Billingsgate Market
By Mike Urch, SeafoodSource contributing editor
01 October, 2012
The UK’s largest inland fish market, Billingsgate Market in London, is to have GBP 4 million (USD 6.5 million) worth of improvements made during the next 12 to 18 months. Chief among these is a complete new roof for the market and the installation of a ceiling for the trading hall, followed by the provision of extra storage and order picking premises for the merchants.
Market superintendent (effectively the market’s CEO) Malcolm Macleod, said the money will come from different sources including the Corporation of London, which owns the market, and the European Fisheries Fund which ‘seems sympathetic.’
“The money exists; there will be no holding back, no stopping us,” said Macloed.
The market authorities are investigating the putting of solar panels on the new roof. “But will only do so if it makes economic sense,” said Macleod. “The sums have got to add up.”
The provision of extra storage and order picking facilities will enable the removal of containers, which are ‘all over the place’ as merchants have expanded their premises piecemeal.
“The new premises will be permanent and sited next to existing premises so that everything will be logistically efficient,” Macleod says.
Although these are major changes, a much more important change to the operation of the market was completed earlier this year with the withdrawal of licences from the trade union porters. These porters had operated a closed shop whereby only they were allowed to move boxes of fish on the market premises.
Furthermore their wages were fixed at a very high rate and their number depended on the size of individual merchants’ businesses. If a merchant wanted to expand then he had to employ more porters in a ratio that was determined by the union. The result was that premises on the trading floor were left unoccupied.
The Corporation of London withdrew the licences on 12 January and the porters’ contracts were bought out by the merchants so that they finished work on 30 April. Many were able to be re-employed by the merchants but at rates that fitted in with what other staff were paid.
MacLeod said that the market is now full. “Existing merchants have taken up the vacant stands and new 10-year leases are in place. These leases are protected in that they have to be renewed on expiry or the merchants compensated.”
Billingsgate Market is located at Canary Wharf, one of London's two main financial centres and also a major business district. It moved there in 1982 and more or less ever since there have been rumours that the Corporation would sell what is now an extremely valuable 13 acre site.
While admitting this could happen at some distant future point in time, Macleod said it is highly unlikely within the next ten years and meanwhile the merchants have ‘the best form of lease that it is possible to have.’
The provision of a new roof will be the first time that any major work has been done on the exterior of the building, although improvements have been made in order to comply with the latest EU hygiene legislation.
To take this to the next level, the market authorities have carried out a major audit of the premises and instituted what is called the Billingsgate Code of Practice. “This is continually evolving,” said Macleod. “We have a list of recommended improvements that we are working through.”
Individual tenants are also now being audited at their own request. “They have agreed to do everything that they have been asked to do. There has been good feedback. Everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.”
An average of 25,000 metric tons of fish and fish products are sold by Billingsgate Market merchants each year and approximately 40 percent of that tonnage comprises fish imported from abroad. The annual turnover of the market is estimated to be in the region of GBP 200 million (USD 323.8 million).
With all the changes that have taken place and are planned, Macleod is optimistic about the future of the market. “We have got a lot going for us,” he said.
01 October, 2012