The Brixton Pound have released a statement in support of the campaign to save the businesses in the arches on Atlantic Road and Brixton Station Road from Network Rail’s plans to evict them while redevelopment works are being carried out, with rent rises an inevitable consequence if they return to the units.
Brixton Pound staff and directors wrote the following:
The Brixton Pound (B£) was created to support the small independent businesses that are the lifeblood of the Brixton community. We hope over the years that our efforts have helped raise awareness amongst both Brixton residents and visitors that supporting local businesses, although sometimes costing a little bit more time than going to the big chains, is a worthwhile investment and a more rewarding experience. There is also a hard-nosed economic case for small independents – they employ more local people and spend more of their profits locally than chain retailers. Indeed, two-thirds of all the jobs in the UK are created by small and medium sized enterprises.
As everyone is aware, however, Brixton has increasingly become a more challenging place for independent businesses to survive. Rents have been shooting up year on year and fierce competition has arrived from the major national chain-stores and supermarkets. Brixton’s main high street lost its last independent business – Mr Webster’s shoe shop – a few years back. Now, with the exception of the joss-stick sellers and flower shop pop ups outside the tube, its looks little different from any other UK high street.
Fortunately, off the main thoroughfare, Brixton is still a vibrant home for independents. This includes the 30 businesses in the arches of Atlantic and Station road, many of which have been in residence for decades. So it is with great concern that we hear of the 6-month notice being served by Network Rail to these businesses with no guarantee of a return and the likelihood of large rent increases.
We do not know the details of the negotiations between Network Rail, Lambeth Council and the other stakeholders involved in the Brixton Central development program. We also appreciate that redevelopment of central Brixton will involve difficult decisions and that the current economic climate means commercial considerations have to be balanced against the needs of local stakeholders.
However, we have been involved in the community consultation and of course are familiar with many of the businesses on these two roads who have been loyal B£ members since we launched in 2009. Our understanding was that the development would not involve permanently uprooting existing businesses. We note in the Future Brixton published feedback [http://futurebrixton.org/brixtoncentral/workshop-feedback/] from the community consultation on the workshops published on 30th December, it is stated that:
“The proposals to locate new studio or office spaces throughout the masterplan were welcomed, with many people raising the need for space to be affordable… Small shops and workspaces in between the viaducts within a new covered space were also well received. The importance of offering space for light industry and artists, including those already in the area was also raised.”
Clearly, something has gone wrong and the proposals, if carried out, represent a huge blow for the robust local economy that we have been working to support.
We ask all the partners involved to try and take a long view on the development of Brixton Central. Of course, in the short-term, the easy options is to simply ramp up the rents on the refurbished commercial properties in the arches to boost profits. But what would be the long-term consequences?
What makes Brixton special and what makes people want to live here and visit is the diversity of both its residents and its businesses. Research also shows that independent businesses, although they may be able to afford a bit less in rent, are less likely to lay off workers or close down during the bad times, as Tesco is doing right now across the country.
The current residents of the arches have proven their commitment to Brixton and their ability to ride out the ups and downs of the Brixton economy. They also provide basic goods and services – the shops on this strip include fishmongers, general stores and places to buy fruit and vegetables. But they are also more than simply businesses. They employ Brixton people, are run by Brixton families and serve loyal Brixton customers. Forcing them out would involve breaking part relationships and the social capital built up over generations.
In other words, the decisions over the Central Brixton redevelopment, as with any redevelopment, need to be based on more than just a simple, short-term economic bottom line.
Going forward, as proposed in the petition, we ask that Network Rail reconsider their eviction notice and engage in constructive negotiations with the arches businesses to find a solution that will enable them to remain an integral fixture of the Brixton community. We also call on Lambeth Council and the other stakeholders involved to do everything in their power to ensure such a positive outcome.
The Brixton Pound Staff and Directors