Hackney railway arches: Meg Hillier and council chief blast Network Rail over 'unacceptable' rent hikes
PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:25 29 March 2018
Rail bosses driving long-established traders out of Hackney with eye-watering rent hikes will be held to account, Meg Hillier has vowed.
Network Rail’s demands for increases of 100 per cent plus are leaving businesses in the borough’s arches no choice but to move out.
This month 10 firms in London Fields who had been negotiating for more than a year were given two weeks to agree to a new deal, or leave. Among them are garages, upholsterers and caterers.
The rail giant, which is part publicly owned, has 182 arches in Hackney and is one of the biggest commercial landlords in the country. But it is reportedly ready to offload its portfolio and has been accused of driving up the value by hiking rents across the board.
Now, the Hackney South and Shoreditch MP, who is also chair of parliament’s public accounts committee, has vowed to take action and told the Gazette she was speaking to the National Audit Office about the national picture. She said: “I’m angry because this big corporate machine is screwing these businesses over. There is a much bigger issue here I am determined to get to the bottom of.”
Ms Hillier had a “positive” meeting with rail chiefs last year and now says they “haven’t delivered” on their word to listen more to traders.
“They benefit from increasing rents because the value goes up,” she added. “And who can pay those rents in the real world?
“We pride ourselves on having independent businesses and I am really worried for some of them what with Brexit and business rates going up. At the moment it’s a real onslaught.”
The town hall’s business chief Cllr Guy Nicholson also blasted the firm and said he will be speaking to Meg Hillier and writing to Sadiq Khan.
He said: “These are way and above local rent levels and Network Rail’s behaviour is really inappropriate.
“They are trying to sell off their management contract at over 5,000 business premises. All they are set on doing is increasing the value of that portfolio so they get a better price in the market. No business can survive that. It’s unacceptable practice coming from what in effect is a public body.
“I will have a conversation with Meg to put in place some leverage in parliament and start making some substantial noise for legislative change around commercial rents.”
A Network Rail spokeswoman said: “We are endeavouring to be as accommodating and flexible as possible. We are proud to have so many small independent businesses thriving. But we are also obliged by the government to deliver value for the taxpayer and all of the money generated is reinvested back into the railway.”