Guardians of the Arches: Traders still fear steep rent hikes as tenants' charter is published
PUBLISHED: 12:32 24 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:14 24 October 2019
Traders across the UK's railway arches still fear steep rent increases despite their landlord's vow to put them first.
The Arch Company, a joint venture between US private equity group Blackstone and property investor Telereal Trillium, has published the promised tenants' charter, a year on from buying all 4,455 arches in a £1.46billion deal.
After pressure from the London Fields-born trade group Guardians of the Arches, who tried to stop the sale, the new owners vowed to adopt a "tenants first" approach, including a charter.
But in it, commitments to help long-standing businesses who cannot afford steep rent hikes include staggering the increase or relocating them to another area.
Clauses imposed on the Arch Company by Network Rail in the deal are also revealed, such as banning leases with security of tenure.
Guardians of the Arches director Leni Jones said the "intense negotiations" that shaped the charter had led to some positive commitments, but traders still faced being put out of business.
She said: "The charter makes some limited commitments on the most pressing issues for tenants - rent levels, and transparency and fairness in the rent review and lease renewal process.
"The Arch Co is promising to help long-standing tenants who cannot afford rent increases, and to work towards giving all tenants sufficient notice of rent review and lease renewal terms.
"These are a good start. But there is a lot more to do before tenants will start to feel secure and fairly treated.
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"Large rent increases continue to be imposed, which will push small firms out of our cities and potentially out of business."
The Gazette was present when the Guardians group was formed in early 2017, a response to small businesses in and around Mentmore Terrace being hit with rent hikes of up to 300 per cent.
After gaining hundreds of members across the country, the campaign moved on to trying to stop the sale and won the support of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.
The National Audit Office concluded in May the sale was done without consideration of the impact on tenants, and the government and Network Rail admitted it had not engaged properly during a grilling by Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier on the Public Accounts Committee.
The charter has four principles:
- Being an accessible and responsible landlord.
- Providing environments that help arch businesses thrive.
- Working in partnership with tenants - in particular understanding the affordability concerns of some of their smaller, long-term tenants and not-for-profits and working with them to agree suitable rent profiles.
- Creating positive social and economic impact.
Arch Company director Adam Dakin said: "The charter is our public commitment to engage with all of our tenants and communities in an open and responsive manner.
"It sets out how we will address our tenants' priorities in practice, make the arches better places to build, grow and run businesses and above all preserve the diverse and independent mix of businesses that make the arches so unique."