Riccardo Festa, who has run The Baron in Brixton Arches in Atlantic Road for more than 30 years, speaks out about how Network Rail is treating traders like him
I feel the need to get a point across.
The real reason Network Rail are pushing forward with their regeneration plan is nothing to do with Brixton.
Network Rail are the biggest commercial landlord in the UK. Their debts could be heading for £50bn, I read.
They are the owners of hundreds of railway arches that hold up the train lines. These arches were never designed to be used as commercial retail units.
Originally changed from empty arches to a place to keep livestock, especially in Brixton where the rich of central London kept their horses and carriages.
Now Brixton is a “prime location” hotspot. New development is pushing up house prices and thus commercial property.
Network Rail always prided themselves as “the small business landlord”. This was due to charging affordable rents on arches that had not been designed for the purpose they were now being used for.
Now they are turning their back on their own motto.
The affordable rents given to small independent businesses are no longer acceptable to them.
Most of us are given a long lease of 20 years on average. This was to tie us into the units and give Network Rail some stability of tenants.
In this lease there are two reasons to end the lease, giving six months notice:
1, is for structural repair.
2, is for regeneration.
If we lose our current lease, then we will lose all rights to the rents we currently pay.
THIS IS THE MAIN REASON NETWORK RAIL WANT OUR LEASE BACK.
But they have to prove that they need to end the leases for regeneration.
First of all, in early 2015 Network Rail said that the main reason for ending our leases was for the safety of the trains.
Then, when asked to prove that structural repairs were required, they changed their reason for serving notice to regeneration.
They have told us we can come back (but only verbally, not in writing ), but at much increased rents. A 350% increase to our current rents and giving us back our own units that we have looked after and taken care off as a shell.
When Brixton was bad we were good.
Now Brixton is good we are bad.
The tiny compensation offered is supposed to pay for storage of our goods, look after our families for over a year while they do their “work needed” and pay for a new shop fit to our empty shell. All this for £20k!!
NETWORK RAIL ARE NOT INTERESTED IN THE FUTURE OF BRIXTON.
They have been absentee landlords for over 20 years. Many of the repairs to the outside structure could have been done 20 years ago, but Brixton was just a run-down centre full of problems and drugs. Now it’s desirable they want it back.
When Brixton was bad we were good. Now Brixton is good we are bad.
Lambeth council are totally in bed with Network Rail because increased rents will increase the business rates payable. Extra revenue for no extra money spent by the council.
It’s all about the money. Nothing to do with improvements.
People need to be aware of how Network Rail are stabbing their loyal tenants in the back.