Owners of shops in the railway arches on Brixton's Atlantic Road fear for the future of their businesses after landlord Network Rail announced plans to evict them while redevelopment works are carried out.
People in the area are worried the works will result in the independent businesses — many of which have been there for decades — being replaced by multi-national chains, which would destroy the vibrancy of the area. A petition against the proposals has been launched.
One shopkeeper posting on forum Urban75 said:
Have just been told by my landlords, Network Rail, that they have plans to redevelop the Arches we rent, and that we don't figure in their new shiny plans. It's not just us, it's every arch along Atlantic Road and Brixton Station Road, from Brixton Road to Poes Road. Everyone to be Served Notice by "springtime 2015" To vacate six months after.
New Units to be available from 2017, but there's no "first refusal" given to us on the increased new rents that will come with any new tenancy. We have to apply like anyone else interested. So it looks like after over 40 years, its Goodbye A & C Continental Grocers & hello Pret a Manger, Waitrose Local etc.
A Network Rail spokesman confirmed that rents would be increasing, but aimed to reassure tenants and residents that the organisation didn't want to create a "clone town": "We are part funded by the tax-payer and partly by fares so it would be wrong of us not to seek to recoup the substantial investment we'll be making," he said.
"A lot of these businesses have been there a long time so we know it's going to be a wrench to move.
"We wouldn't be investing in Brixton if we wanted to turn it into something else — we want a good mix of tenants, not a row of identical chain stores. We will be focussed on maintaining the vibrancy of the area and are working closely with Lambeth council to achieve this."
The spokesman said exact plans for the arches have not yet been submitted, but as there is a large number of tenants it wanted to inform them of the works with as much warning as possible:
"Plans are being prepared and each of the tenants and leaseholders in these arches is being contacted to discuss the plans and how individual businesses will be affected. Tenants will need to vacate the arches later this year and Network Rail is advising them early to allow time to plan for the temporary closure of the arches for the refurbishment works.
"Tenants will be supported by Network Rail with a package of financial and professional support including assistance to find relocation premises."
The moves tie into a massive redevelopment of Brixton, as part of Lambeth council's planning strategy for the area. The council has outlined its intentions on a dedicated website which includes some detail on the vision for the area it describes as "Brixton Central", including that the arches are being refurbished by Network Rail and it is hoped that they will be used for a mix of cafes and retail.