Chuka Umunna, Labour candidate for Streatham MP and shadow business secretary, has written a letter to rail minister Claire Perry asking for her assistance “in calling on Network Rail to act in a responsible way towards its tenants in the Brixton railway arches”.
In the letter to Perry, who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Umunna says Network Rail must “recognise the social value” which the shops add to the community and says the rail company must commit to a right to return at an affordable level of rent.
Umunna says that although it is understood that existing tenants will initially be offered rents at below market rates, Network Rail will then increase them to market levels within three years and many of the arches businesses “simply could not afford that.”
Below is the full letter to Claire Perry and and separately the answer she’s given in parliament on the arches:
I have been contacted by many residents in the Brixton area spanning three constituencies, Streatham, Dulwich and West Norwood and Vauxhall, about Network Rail’s plans for the railway arches on Brixton Station Road and Atlantic Road. More than 20,000 people have also signed an on-line petition to express their opposition to Network Rail’s plans.
There are more than 50 small businesses in the Brixton arches and between them they support 150 local jobs. Many are established businesses which have been in Brixton for decades and they are an important part of the community, character and identity of Brixton.
Network Rail plans to serve notice to the businesses currently occupying the Brixton arches during the summer of 2015, requiring them to vacate early in 2016, in order to refurbish the arches. Network Rail’s original intention was to evict all of the businesses and increase the rent for the arches to market rent, with no right to return for existing businesses. It is now understood that existing businesses will be offered the right to return at a level of rent which will start below market rent but will increase to market rent within three years. Many of the arches businesses have narrow margins and simply could not afford to pay market rent.
The new offer from Network Rail is viewed by the businesses as simply postponing the inevitable decline and closure which would follow such a significant increase in the rent. The arches traders are being supported by the Federation of Small Businesses in their campaign.
I am writing to ask for your assistance in calling on Network Rail to act in a responsible way towards its tenants in the Brixton railway arches. In particular, the arches businesses and the local community would like to see Network Rail commit to a right to return for the existing businesses at an affordable level of rent for those who wish to return and a phased approach to the refurbishment which maximises continuity of trading for as many businesses as possible. As a publicly funded organisation, Network Rail should recognise the social value which the arches businesses have to the community in Brixton. I am particularly concerned that the current proposed approach may lead to the loss of up to 150 local jobs with no guarantee that these would be replaced.
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will discuss with Network Rail the need to support businesses currently renting properties from Network Rail in the Brixton railway arches. (228822)
Tabled on: 23 March 2015
Network Rail is an arm’s-length public sector body and the provision of business support to existing tenants affected by Network Rail’s proposed refurbishment of Brixton Arches remains a commercial matter for direct resolution between the parties concerned.
Network Rail advises that the scale of the work, which is likely to take a year, means that businesses will be unable to remain in their current spaces. It understands that this will be a serious upheaval for its tenants. Network Rail is already providing help and advice on the next steps. It will work with each individual occupier, provide business support tailored to each of their individual requirements, and work with them should they wish to return upon completion of the improvements. Network Rail will discuss the options available to them, including the phasing of the works and compensation.
The answer was submitted on 26 Mar 2015 at 11:48.
Sign the petition to halt the evictions here.