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Coronavirus: Railway arch businesses get three months rent free to survive pandemic crisis

PUBLISHED: 19:00 27 March 2020 | UPDATED: 18:21 29 March 2020

Struggling businesses in railway arches given rent-free period to get through pandemic crisis. Picture: Mike Brooke

Struggling businesses in railway arches given rent-free period to get through pandemic crisis. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Thousands of small businesses in railway arches are being given a rent-free three months’ grace to get them through the pandemic crisis.

Taxi repair workshop in Bethnal Green, one of the many small businesses under the railway arches in Dunbar Street. Picture: Mike BrookeTaxi repair workshop in Bethnal Green, one of the many small businesses under the railway arches in Dunbar Street. Picture: Mike Brooke

They’ve been allowed a ‘breather’ today by the Arches Company which took over 4,000 premises across London and thousands more around Britain in a £1.4bn deal with Network Rail last year.

Network Rail’s sell-off went ahead in the face of a traders’ campaign started in Bethnal Green that spread along railways across the country over rent hypes and evictions.

The Guardians of the Arches organisation launched in 2018, which now represents businesses all over Britain, has welcomed today’s announcement from the Arch Company.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs on fact-finding visit to meet railway arch traders in Bancroft Road in 2018 campaign to stop rent hypes. Picture: Mike BrookeTower Hamlets mayor John Biggs on fact-finding visit to meet railway arch traders in Bancroft Road in 2018 campaign to stop rent hypes. Picture: Mike Brooke

“They recognise how serious the situation is for tenants,” Guardians managing director Leni Jones said.

“A rent-free period will go a long way to putting tenants’ minds at ease during this crisis. We’re delighted to see the company recognise this. It is important not to place further strains on businesses already at the edge.”

The Guardians organisation has now won a decisive move from the Arch Company to help small businesses through the crisis.

Arches campaigner Will Brett... Arches campaigner Will Brett... "Many businesses would not have survived rent deferral during pandemic and were considering going into liquidation." Picture: Mike Brooke

Campaigner Will Brett told the East London Advertiser today: “This a is a lifeline. The company originally offered rent ‘deferral’, but that would still have landed the cost of the pandemic crisis onto small businesses.

“Many businesses would not have survived—they were considering going into liquidation rather than having to carry the burden through the crisis.

“But this rent-free period in this-morning’s announcement is a ‘result’ for us.”

End of the road... empty arch in Bancroft Road after the business closed down. Picture: Mike BrookeEnd of the road... empty arch in Bancroft Road after the business closed down. Picture: Mike Brooke

The pandemic crisis means those tenants in need have been offered rent deferrals till July to prevent going into liquidation.

The Arch Company has set up a £10m ‘Hardship’ fund to cover the period for small businesses in retail, hospitality, leisure and others affected.

Its managing director Adam Dakin said: “Our tenants have been severely affected by the crisis, with many having to shut down for the next few weeks. There is still uncertainty about how small businesses that are not trading for the next few months are expected to cover costs, which means without our help many of our businesses simply won’t survive.

“The diverse mix of independent businesses that make up the arches have a special place in each community. It would be tragic to lose that because of the economic crisis created by Coronavirus.

Small firms are at the heart of the arches and will be there at the end of the crisis.”

The new arrangements were set up after talks with tenants and the Guardians of the Arches.

Tenants with leases expiring are also be offered tenancies until the end of September and bailiff actions and evictions due to non-payment is also being suspended.

The Guardians organisation was started in 2018 in Bethnal Green when motor workshops and other traders along Bancroft Road and Dunbridge Street were facing up to 350pc rent rises by National Rail’s sell-off, with some forced to close.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs backed the 600 railway arch businesses in the East End and joined their lobby to the Transport Secretary to try and push the sell-off into the sidings.

Network Rail had “ignored” tenants in last year’s sell off, a National Audit Office report said at the time.

Tenants in need during the pandemic crisis can get support online at: https://www.thearchco.com/existing-tenants/coronavirus-support-unit/


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