Editor’s comment: Network Rail’s London Fields railway arches blitz is all the taxpayer’s fault, apparently

Traders from London Fields. Picture: Polly Hancock

Traders from London Fields. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

This column originally appeared in the Gazette on February 16, 2017.

Network Rail has some nerve to blame you and me for the galactic rent hikes it wants to impose on London Fields

businesses – but read the small print and we, or rather “the taxpayer”, are their taskmasters. How heartless of us.

“Providing value for the taxpayer” is the obligation Network Rail must fulfil above all else, which must be why it ordered the wrong size parts for the eight-month Gospel Oak to Barking Overground electrification but only just noticed. Or, more locally, why it’s now trying to squeeze the heart out of Hackney’s railway arches. One can only assume none of the business owners pay any tax, or surely Network Rail would be trying to provide a bit of value to them, too. Never mind the people who visit their workshops and breweries and bakeries. Scroungers, the lot of them.

It looks like a hopeless David v Goliath sort of struggle, but take heart from (a) the fact these business owners are organised and united, (b) the fact they have probably weathered worse storms in the 25 years since London Fields was a wasteland of drugs and prostitution (their words), and (c) the fact campaigners over in

Blackstock Road have just sent Sainsbury’s of all people away with a flea in their ear, albeit with the council’s help. People power works sometimes.

The hard work the arches’ tenants have put in for two and a half decades has transformed the surrounding area. This isn’t gentrification: that’s what Network Rail is doing, trying to parachute in more profitable firms who in all likelihood will have little to do with Hackney by hiking the rent to an impossible figure. No, these firms have created a community, which is demonstrated by their coming together now. They have created employment. Now Network Rail is telling them: thanks, but sod off. I see neither value nor values in that.