Market owner offers conditions to suspend Nour eviction

Nour's Saja Shaheen
Nour’s Saja Shaheen

Facing a growing outcry on social media, Hondo Enterprises, which runs Brixton’s covered markets – Brixton Village and Market Row – has indicated that it would suspend its plans to evict Nour Cash & Carry from Market Row in July if Nour agreed to move to new premises in the market.

However, the premises on offer are vastly different from Nour’s current space with its unique access for shoppers from both Market Row and Electric Avenue. They are also smaller, meaning Nour would incur extra storage costs. Overall, the trader’s costs would increase.

In a statement, a Hondo spokesperson said the company is creating a new “purpose-built unit” for Nour. It would be in Brixton Village on space currently used as a service yard beneath the Lost in Brixton bar that opened last summer.

In contrast to the high visibility of Nour’s current premises, the new one would only have doors inside Brixton Village. And it would have a life-span of only four years. Hondo and its partners are planning a 19-storey office tower on Pope’s Road.

Its construction would also impact another Brixton market trader which has been there even longer than Nour. Harry Otto & Son fishmongers have been in the market for 40 years and Nour’s owners, the Shaheen family, would refuse to be involved in any move that would disadvantage them.

Hondo’s planning consultant, the Mayfair-based DP9, applied to Lambeth council last December for permission for the new building. The application was for a building with “flexible uses” and not one for a food retailer. Possible uses in the application ranged from a shop, through a restaurant, drinking place or café to “assembly and leisure” and to “provide various opportunities for different user groups within and outside the market”.

The council agreed to this application in May, but only after DP9 – which worked on planning permission for the new US embassy in Nine Elms and the redevelopment of the Heygate estate in Southwark – agreed to drop one of the proposed uses for the building – as a hot food takeaway.

The Brixton Society was critical of the plans, saying that the proposed unit would “lack visibility to customers passing through the indoor market”.

The proposed access to the building, close to the Pope’s Road “back door” to Brixton Village, and next to an established fishmonger, would “interfere with the normal operation of one of the traditional uses which help give the arcade its distinctive character,” said the Brixton Society.

Image of the planned building under Lost in Brixton Village from the planning application for it
Image of the planned building under Lost in Brixton Village from the planning application for it
The service yard under the Lost bar in Brixton Village where Hondo plans to build a new unit is on the right of this photograph
The service yard under the Lost bar in Brixton Village where Hondo plans to build a new unit is on the right of this photograph

The highly successful media operation by the Save Nour campaign (which is run by supporters and not the shop itself, nor the Shaheen family) has put great pressure on Hondo Enterprises and its sole director Taylor McWilliams.

High profile figures like celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi have rallied to the cause of Nour on social media, joining long-time supporters like local food writer Jay Rayner and other celebrities and writers including Bake Off runner-up Ruby Tandoh, Masterchef judge Monica Galetti, Doctor Who actor Pearl Mackie, BBC Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, and former government adviser and TV retail expert Mary Portas.

A video from inside Nour produced by the campaign has been seen by more than 140,000 people.

Responding to growing protest, a Hondo spokesperson said Taylor McWilliams had received death threats as a result of the campaign’s accusations.

Save Nour replied, saying: “It should be clear that the Save Nour campaign has never threatened anyone, nor called on anyone to do so. This is a distraction from the real harm being caused.

“We expected the campaign to be over long ago; that McWilliams has persisted in holding the eviction notice over Nour’s head has created a huge amount of understandable anger among a community that feel we stand to lose a treasured place because of Hondo’s actions.”

The Hondo spokesperson said that the company “recognises that Brixton Market plays a huge part in the lives of thousands of people and is integral to what makes Brixton home. We are committed to protecting this community asset for many years to come.

“In stark contrast to the false and appalling allegations circulating on social media that Taylor, and Hondo Enterprises, ‘don’t care about the community’, in fact, nearly £2 million has been spent on the infrastructure at the market, making sure that local traders can continue to work there.

“Brixton Market now has free space available for community groups and charities across the week, including a permanent space for a local food bank.

“Hondo have a positive relationship with the vast majority of traders with over 60 signing new affordable deals over the last year and all traders being offered three months free rent during this difficult economic period.

“We recognise everyone has a right to protest, but it should be peaceful and based on fact. Notice had to be issued so that an electrical substation could be built. But Taylor, and Hondo, do not want Nour to leave the market.

“To that end, we are building a new unit for them to go into, on favourable terms. We very much hope they decide to remain part of the market.

“For this, Taylor has received death threats, friends have been harassed and attacked online. Attention has been drawn from the biggest challenge the retail and hospitality industry has ever faced.

“There is a very good reason that a new electrical substation has to be put in. As we have previously made clear, Brixton Market has had an issue with insufficient power for many years with a number of tenants reporting prolonged power cuts.

“Hondo has been unable to meet the requests of a number of existing tenants to upgrade their power and upgrades requested for new units as the existing UKPN infrastructure to the market is at its capacity.

“The lack of power is stifling the market, obstructing vacant units from being occupied. These empty units have a large negative impact on footfall, preventing the market from sufficiently servicing traders and therefore the community.”

The spokesperson also issued a statement which they said gives details of how Hondo worked with UK Power Networks to upgrade the power supply. It said that after exhausting other options, UKPN set out various stringent conditions to design the new substation:

  • Adequate useable floor space and headroom – 4.7 metres wide (to the roadside) x 4 metres deep x 2.5 metres high for the substation; and 5 metres long x 2 metres deep for a switchroom.
  • Security against unauthorised entry
  • Unrestricted 24-hour access
  • Natural ventilation to remove heat from the substation
  • Located adjacent an external wall
  • Suitable access for the safe installation and replacement of substation equipment
  • Access for cables.
Saja and Salam Shaheen with customers in 2012
Serving the community for decades: Saja and Salam Shaheen (centre) with customers in 2012

The spokesperson said: “In our search for a suitable site, we found that these conditions are not easily fulfilled, especially in a listed heritage operating market.

“Following an extensive review UKPN confirmed that the requirements for a 2.5m headroom and direct access from the road would preclude any other location and thereby confirmed the rear of unit 23 location (Nour’s unit).”

The spokesperson added: “Despite this, in order to retain Nour, we looked at a number of possibilities culminating in Hondo agreeing to pay for a large purpose-built unit for them in the Brixton Village Market.

“The application for this new unit, which was submitted in December, has been approved and the current offer put to Nour meets all their most up to date requirements, including lower rent than they are currently on.

“We sincerely hope they sign the long-term affordable deal that is currently with them, so they can remain within Brixton Market.”

Brixton’s covered markets are owned by a partnership of Hondo Enterprises – which qualifies as a “micro-entity” under UK company law – and the giant US-based multinational finance company Angelo Gordon. Control is exercised through several Amsterdam-based companies.

If Nour can go, what else could we lose?