London Fields arches traders welcome chance to grill Network Rail bosses over rent hikes

Traders from businesses along Helmsley Place. Picture: Polly Hancock

Traders from businesses along Helmsley Place. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

London Fields traders have welcomed Hackney Council’s help over their ongoing rent dispute with Network Rail – and called on bosses to make the area a designated industrial zone.

The town hall and MP Meg Hillier have stepped in to quiz transport bosses about their demands for increases of up to 200 per cent, which have already seen some firms go under.

Positive talks were held at the House of Commons last month after the Gazette highlighted the issue, and traders have now been told they will themselves have the opportunity to grill the people they feel are trying to force them out.

It’s hoped the meeting, which could be held at Hackney Town Hall, would help them to reach a compromise. The industrial traders feel Network Rail is trying to fill the area with cafes, bakeries and restaurants – who can afford to pay higher rents.

They say this would enable the company to sell the arches for more money down the line. Network Rail has denied this and said it is simply trying to get the best deal for the taxpayer.

Derec Hickman of Chu’s Garage is representing the traders. He has thanked the town hall for stepping in, and is now urging the council to make Mentmore Terrace a priority area for manufacturing businesses.

He told the Gazette: “Doing that would mean vacant properties can not be marketed as having an opportunity for change of use unless it is for ancillary use [add-on]. “The council needs to pressure Network Rail to understand this and to accept and present a standard rent to tenants who have manufacturing use.

“We believe the meeting is the correct way forwards to achieve this and the current mixture of business uses could be protected. Most of all we believe this would put an end to some of the drawn out rent negotiations.”

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Following the Westminster meeting, Meg Hillier said it was “still early days” but progress was being made.

In the last 18 months, six companies have been hit with rent hikes, which come in the form of a letter. If the letters is not replied to within 28 days, the rise happens automatically. Some traders have been offered reduced rates if they give up their protected tenancies, which have been in place for years and stop them from being evicted.