Crippling rent rises in railway arches are forcing small business owners in Tower Hamlets to shut up shop.
That was the stark warning to Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs when he visited the railway arches in Bethnal Green’s Bancroft Road.
Mayor Biggs made the trip to hear for himself how Network Rail’s record rent hikes are impacting small businesses, many of which have been based in the arches for years.
Accompanied by Cllr Motin Uz-Zaman (Cabinet Member for Work and Economic Growth), Mayor Biggs was given a tour of Rosso Corse, a Ducati motorcycle service centre opened by Marcus Jones in 2005 as a way to turn his passion into a business.
Marcus described the shock of hearing that Network Rail wanted to put his rent up by as much as 350 per cent, a decision he says came out of the blue and with no genuine explanation.
He feared it could be the end of the road for his small company and while he has managed to talk Network Rail
Other arches tenants along Bancroft Road told a similar story.
Robert Bonadie, owner of P&A Mars Motors, used to run his business out of two garages next to each other. Faced with the crippling rent rises handed down by Network Rail, Robert was left with no choice but to give up one of his arches and downscale the size of the business he had worked so hard to develop.
Robert’s neighbour Mervyn Bennett, owner of Bancroft Garage, told a similar story of having to downsize to keep the lights on. Gesturing along Bancroft Road at the many arches now standing empty and boarded up, Mervyn asked why it was that as a landlord, Network Rail would rather see tenants walking away than paying the rent.
The council believes the policy is part of a strategic move by Network Rail to make the national arches portfolio – said to be worth in the region of £1bn – look more attractive to investors ahead of a planned sale.
The Bancroft Road businesses are among an increasing number that have joined the Guardians of the Arches campaign calling for a rapid rethink on the rent hikes.
Tower Hamlets Council is backing the campaign and ahead of their visit last week, Mayor Biggs and Cllr Uz-Zaman wrote to the Chief Executive of Network Rail and the Secretary of State for Transport calling for them to halt a policy that is harming business across the borough and around the country.
Speaking after his visit, Mayor John Biggs said: “The East End has a proud history of providing hardworking people with the ability to make something of themselves and to build a foundation.
"Finding and preserving affordable workspace is a big part of that and until now, the railway arches have offered the practical solution that a lot of small firms need.
“The hard working tenants I met at Bancroft Road arches have put in the hours to build their businesses from scratch. They have done everything by the book and have contributed to our economy. It is right that we stand up for them.
“What Network Rail is doing is in my view unfair, unjust and not in the public interest. We will do all we can to put pressure on decision makers to rethink a rent hike policy that is destroying businesses.”
Cllr Uz-Zaman added: “Standing up for small businesses in our borough is always important, but no more so than when they are being forced to close their doors by these shocking rent increases.
“After meeting with the business owners in Bancroft Road directly affected by Network Rail’s policy, Mayor Biggs and I are more determined to do what we can to push for a change of direction.
“We have already written to Network Rail and the Secretary of State. We will also be working with other London boroughs and talking with our Members of Parliament to make sure pressure is being applied in whatever way it can be.”
Posted on Tuesday 17th July 2018