Guardians of the Arches: Traders hand Jo Johnson list of demands in bid to stop Network Rail sale

Arches traders outside Parliament after the meeting in June.

Arches traders outside Parliament after the meeting in June. - Credit: Archant

Traders fighting the imminent sale of Network Rail’s arches have laid out their demands to transport minister Jo Johnson following the successful meeting with him last month.

Inside the arch of Chu's Garage in Helmsley Place, the Chu family, from left Quang Chu, Nhi Chu, Cha

Inside the arch of Chu's Garage in Helmsley Place, the Chu family, from left Quang Chu, Nhi Chu, Chau Chu and Jimmy Chu. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The Guardians of the Arches group was formed in London Fields 18 months ago to fight devastating rent hikes of up to 300 per cent and now has hundreds of members from across the country – plus the backing of the Labour party.

The aim now is to stop the impending sale of all 4,555 arches to one buyer on a 99-year lease. Traders believe it will leave them at the mercy of a faceless corporate landlord with little care for their livelihoods.

Last month Mr Johnson agreed to listen to alternatives to the proposed sale, which Network Rail is carrying out to help raise £1.2bn plus of its £1.8bn deficit as per an agreement with the government.

Now, the Guardians have written to Mr Johnson with 13 proposals to ensure the estate is managed fairly.

The demands include pausing the sale so that other interested parties – including councils and businesses – can express interest in buying groups of arches, an agreement that rents never top 80pc of an equivalent commercial space and no rent increases higher than 20pc for three years. They also want security of tenure – which was largely removed during recent rent reviews – put back into all contracts.

Guardians founders Nhi Chu and Derec Hickman from Chu’s Garage told the Gazette the group had spent the last 48 hours drawing up the demands.

“We’re not worried about Network Rail listening anymore because we have an audience with Jo Johnson. We’re happy with the help we have got from local and central government.

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“We are so thankful for the Guardians team who are working on this campaign and it will work.”

Network Rail announced two weeks ago that the sale process was nearing the final stages. The four remaining bidders are CK Asset Holdings, Terra Firma, Kildare Partners and Blackstone/Telereal. Another bidder pulled out recently, with some saying it was due to the strength of the campaign.

Hackney mayor Phil Glanville has written to transport secretary Chris Grayling expressing interest in buying Hackney’s arches if the deal can be stopped.

And this week, new research from the New Economics Foundation, which along with the East End Trades Guild is backing the Guardians, found arches firms contribute more than £725m a year to UK GDP.

The Gazette has covered the campaign since it was formed, and was at the first meeting – before the Guardians got their name – at London Fields Brewery.

This paper also attended a meeting at Parliament in June at which Jeremy Corbyn and members of his shadow cabinet came out in support of the campaign.