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Guardians of the Arches: Phil Glanville says council ‘interested’ in buying Hackney’s arches from Network Rail

PUBLISHED: 08:18 18 July 2018 | UPDATED: 08:33 18 July 2018

The arches in London Fields. Picture: Polly Hancock

The arches in London Fields. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

Hackney mayor Phil Glanville says the council would be interested in buying the borough’s Network Rail arches if a planned fire sale can be stopped, the Gazette can reveal.

Traders from Chu's Garage, E5 Bakery, Maxwell & Pinborough, and Sulamen Ozer. Picture: Polly HancockTraders from Chu's Garage, E5 Bakery, Maxwell & Pinborough, and Sulamen Ozer. Picture: Polly Hancock

Mr Glanville wrote to transport secretary Chris Grayling last month asking him to step in and save the borough’s 182 arches – and the 4,455 across the country – before they are sold in a move many feel will destroy small businesses.

The transport firm is planning to offload all of its arches to one buyer on a 99-year lease to raise £1.2bn plus to help plug a £1.8bn deficit, as per an agreement with the government.

But arches traders fear it will leave them at the mercy of a faceless corporate entity with little care for their futures and want the sale halted so they can discuss other options.

Ahead of the sale, the firm has been accused of hiking rents across the board to raise market value – in some cases by up to 300 per cent. Earlier this year a group of traders in London Fields, including furniture makers and a catering firm, were forced out of the borough after being given an ultimatum.

Hackney mayor Phil Glanville. Picture: Gary Manhine/Hackney CouncilHackney mayor Phil Glanville. Picture: Gary Manhine/Hackney Council

The Gazette has been at the forefront of the coverage since traders’ group Guardians of the Arches was launched at Chu’s Garage in Helmsley Place early last year to fight the rent hikes. The group has now gained national support and boasts hundreds of members across the UK, as well as the backing of the East End Trades Guild and the New Economics Foundation (NEF).

At a parliament meeting last month the group also received the backing of the Labour party. Yesterday it was reported one of the bidders had dropped out for unknown reasons.

One of the options put forward by Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier at the meeting was for the arches to be divided up into geographical parcels and sold off to “local landlords or councils”.

And in his letter to the secretary of state, Mr Glanville, who has met Network Rail chiefs over the issue before, said: “Unfortunately any reassuring words about adopting a more collaborative and thoughtful approach have not been realised in practice, despite repeated assurances at all levels of Network Rail.

“We believe the current proposed sell-off should be halted to allow for greater consideration and discussion with a number of stakeholders.

“Whatever the decision reached through, be it the sell-off being reconsidered entirely or divided into smaller geographic areas, we would like to call for a localist approach that ensures a set of guidelines for the role and relationships with business tenants and local authorities be embedded in any contract; an approach that would include a commercial rent policy that is fair and affordable and replicate the approach being taken by TfL.

“Hackney’s independent traders and the immense value they add to our communities are too precious to risk.

“We would welcome your government’s support in calling for such an approach and would be interested in brokering discussions around alternative offers or even exploring making such an investment ourselves.”

Mr Grayling, who was described as having “cloth ears” by Ms Hillier, has responded to the letter, but has completely ignored Mr Glanville’s interest in making an offer.

The Guardians of the Arches will today meet transport minister Jo Johnson as the campaign pressure mounts.

Will Brett of NEF, said: “Hackney Council’s willingness to consider purchasing the arches in the borough shows this isn’t a done deal.

“The government and Network Rail seem committed to flogging off all 4,500 arches in one job lot, leaving thousands of small businesses at the mercy of a single and remote corporate entity.

“But it doesn’t have to be this way. If the government is serious about supporting small businesses, it will look again at this sale and talk to local and regional authorities, and of course the arches tenants themselves, about coming to a different settlement.”

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