In the early 1970s the Covent Garden area was the subject of major development proposals which would have resulted in the destruction of the environment and in the demolition of most of the now listed buildings. These proposals were strenuously contested by those who lived and worked in the area. As a result of their actions, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Geoffrey (later Lord) Rippon, ordered the listing of more than 250 buildings, making the implementation of the comprehensive development Area Plan impossible. The GLC then rethought their policy completely and the Covent Garden Action Area Plan was written in 1978. In 1985 it became apparent that the GLC was to be abolished by Central Government and its powers devolved upon local authorities and the people of Covent Garden were greatly concerned to ensure the continuance of the precepts of the Covent Garden Action Area Plan. The lands formerly owned by the GLC, including Covent Garden, were vested in the London Residuary Body (LRB).
The LRB was sympathetic to the idea of finding a way of continuing with the by then established policies and in 1988 the Covent Garden Area Trust was formed with a view to protect as much of the Covent Garden area as possible to enable the wise management policies enshrined in the Action Area Plan to be continued.
The ex-GLC properties were sold by tender but special arrangements were made in respect of the “Covent Garden Protected Lands” which are the Central Market, 25-31 James Street, 7, 9 & 10 Floral Street, Bedford Chambers and Cubitts Yard and the Museums Block.
In 1988 these properties were sold to GRE Properties Ltd (part of Guardian Royal Exchange Group) but a 150-year lease was granted to the Trust, giving the Trust specific powers and duties over the Protected Lands. Annual rent payable by the Trust for each underlease is one red apple and one posy of flowers and for its day-to-day running, the Trust relies on the income of ground rent on the five parcels of land.
Throughout several changes of freeholder, the Trust has retained its element of control over developments and is ever vigilant in its conservationist role.
The Trust has built up a useful collection of books, photographs and documents about Covent Garden in particular, and London as well as the history of architecture. Researchers and students are welcome to visit. (Telephone or email the Trust’s Administrator to make an appointment.)
In 1997 the Trust published the Environmental Study of Central Covent Garden (funded partly by Westminster City Council, English Heritage and Guardian Properties). This highly-researched and useful handbook contains a set of coherent recommendations relating to the facades of the buildings of the Piazza and surrounding streets and to the successful management of the spaces between them. The follow-up study, Caring for Covent Garden: A Conservation and Management Guide, was published in May 2004.