Battle revs up underneath the arches as East End motor trade is driven out by Network Rail
PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 November 2015 | UPDATED: 11:17 09 November 2015
Motor traders are firing on all cylinders in a protest against Network Rail plans to drive them out of railway arches in London’s East End that they’ve been occupying for decades.
They have handed a petition organised by tyre trader Mohammed Monnan to Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs with 1,000 names to try and stop the evictions under the Liverpool Street main-line railway at Bethnal Green.
The mayor has taken up their case with Network Rail after meeting a deputation of traders at the Town Hall led by Mr Monnan who has been running his Tyre World business for 23 years in two converted arches he leases at Hadleigh Street.
He is under notice to quit by February, having got his marching orders delivered in person by a rail official dropping into his repair workshop.
“He offered no alternative,” Mr Monnan claims. “I was in shock. I couldn’t speak for 10 minutes and nearly fell on the floor.”
He stands to lose £145,000 investment he has ploughed into sprucing up the two arches over the past 23 years.
The father-of-10, from London Fields in Hackney, added: “This is my livelihood and my only asset to support my large family—it is my only income.”
The Victorian brick arches along Hadleigh Street and Malcolm Place, off Cambridge Heath Road, are to be part of a new scheme including restaurants, he was told.
“These arches are plagued with rats and won’t be suitable for restaurants,” he insists.
“The big rail authority thinks we are a bit of dust that can be swept away.
“But we are part of the community and are fighting for our families.”
The traders, who also protested to Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali, feel outraged at “lack of consultation” before they were told to quit.
Network Rail “never considered it appropriate to carry out a consultation” to test public reaction before serving notice or submitting a planning application to the council, the traders say.
Network Rail claims its proposals will “improve the condition and commercial attractiveness of the arches”.
It has met the businesses “several times” and offered alternative accommodation, with five in Malcolm Place so far being helped to find new premises. Talks continue with the others, including Mr Monnan.
A spokesman said: “Our aim is to improve these arches as they are not in good condition and are in real need of modernisation.
“We believe our investment at Bethnal Green will help attract customers and boost the local economy.”
But the motor-trade disagrees. The evictions would, instead, cause job losses in the neighbourhood if they are booted out, they fear.
Network Rail is Britain’s biggest landlord to small businesses, with “a diverse mix of tenants from micro-breweries and hairdressers to dance studios and restaurants”. It manages 4,000 businesses in London alone, with just 20 let to national chains.
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