Who Owns Covent Garden?
Covent Garden, at the heart of London’s West End and with a history dating back to the 17th century and beyond, is a unique destination, synonymous with high culture and the arts and attracts more than 40 million visitors a year. But it is the world-famous Central Market building which is the one most people refer to when they talk about “Covent Garden” or “Covent Garden Market”.
The freehold is currently owned by Capital & Counties, who bought both the iconic Central Market building and several other properties in the immediate area for £421million in August 2006.
However, there have been several freeholders in the area’s history. Before 1988, when the Covent Garden Area Trust was granted a series of 150-year head leases on the Market and nearby properties, the properties were owned by the Greater London Council. The GLC’s Covent Garden team, headed by Geoff Holland (the Trust’s former Chairman), restored the buildings and converted them from their former use as a famous wholesale fruit and vegetable market into the lively mixture of shops and restaurants which visitors see today.
When the GLC was disbanded, the Trust was formed in order to safeguard the buildings that the GLC owned around the Piazza – the Central Market, the Bedford Chambers block and the Museums block plus the Jubilee Market Hall. These buildings are known in the Trust’s lease as the Protected Lands.
The Trust has clearly defined legal powers and can refuse alterations to the appearance of any of the buildings and also changes of use of the Protected Lands. This has, on the whole, worked really well and led to only one major dispute in the past. In 1996, the Trustees refused permission for a 700-seat restaurant, proposed by the then freeholder, Scottish Widows, for the Bedford Chambers block overlooking The Piazza. The Trust was taken to arbitration but won its case.
The original freeholder, from 1988 to 2000, was Guardian Royal Exchange. At the end of June 2000, the freehold of the Central Market was bought by insurance giant Scottish Widows. In 2001, Scottish Widows joined forces with another local freeholder, Henderson Global and together they formed an investment company called Covent Garden Market Limited Partnership which eventually sold out to Capital & Counties.
Capital & Counties, through its subsidiary Covent Garden London, since acquiring the Protected Lands, has since bought further surrounding buildings and now administers a Covent Garden estate totalling 912,000 sq.ft of mixed use space, valued at £1.2 billion and the estate is managed by the Covent Garden London team, based in Floral Street. Capco continues to transform Covent Garden into London’s world class district through a combination of asset management, strategic investment and development.