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Transport minister looking at alternatives to Network Rail’s ‘fire sale’ under the arches

PUBLISHED: 13:35 24 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:24 25 July 2018

Busy taxicab service garage in railway arch in Bethnal Green. Picture: Mike Brooke

Busy taxicab service garage in railway arch in Bethnal Green. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

The transport minister has agreed to look at alternatives the £1.5bn “fire sale” of railway arches causing Network Rail’s 350pc rent rises, according to campaigners.

Several railway arches in an alley behind Bancroft Road, Stepney Green, have been left empty through rising rents. Picture: Mike BrookeSeveral railway arches in an alley behind Bancroft Road, Stepney Green, have been left empty through rising rents. Picture: Mike Brooke

It follows a meeting the ‘Guardians of the Arches’ campaigners and East End Trades Guild have had with Jo Johnson and Network Rail bosses.

The Guardians, a growing network of almost 300 businesses, set out their case for a delay to the sale and to be involved in the process.

The minister has now committed to taking a look at alternative proposals seriously, according to the ‘Guardians’ lobby, although the Transport Department told the East London Advertiser today that the sale would still go ahead.

Mayor John Biggs (centre) meeting railway arch traders in Bancroft Road. Picture: Mike BrookeMayor John Biggs (centre) meeting railway arch traders in Bancroft Road. Picture: Mike Brooke

A Transport Department statement to the paper says: “It is proceeding as planned. The minister has only said he will look at the proposals and respond to the group.”

An alternative track could mean local authorities like Tower Hamlets and neighbouring Hackney could put in bids to buy up some of the arches, rather than the one-off sale of all 4,500 arches up and down the country to a single buyer.

“We’re getting the government to consider an alternative to this sale,” Stepney motor trader and Guardians co-founder Leni Jones said.

Mayor Biggs meets the railway arch traders in Bancroft Road facing Network Rail rent rises up to 350pc. Picture: Mike BrookeMayor Biggs meets the railway arch traders in Bancroft Road facing Network Rail rent rises up to 350pc. Picture: Mike Brooke

“That shows the power of small businesses coming together to protect their interests and the communities we serve. The potential buyers of the arches are taking notice of us and must be wondering what they’re letting themselves in for.”

The traders want stringent conditions to the sale which would protect tenants’ interests, no matter who owns the arches.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs is looking at the idea of a council bid for arches after his whistlestop tour along Bancroft Road to meet traders who told him about Network Rail rent rises up to 250 per cent crippling their businesses.

Several railway arches in an alley behind Bancroft Road, Stepney Green, have been left empty through rising rents. Picture: Mike BrookeSeveral railway arches in an alley behind Bancroft Road, Stepney Green, have been left empty through rising rents. Picture: Mike Brooke

Will Brett from the New Economics Foundation, who met the mayor on his Bancroft Road visit, said after the meeting with the transport minister: “It doesn’t make sense to sell off this huge public asset as one job-lot to a single owner. We’re hoping the arches can be saved for the benefit of small businesses and communities who rely on them.”

Network Rail is nearing the end of the process to sell the arches, with four bidders in the final stage after one pulled out.

It decided to sell its commercial estate as it is “a non-core property asset that’s not essential for running the railway”.

Mayor John Biggs (centre) meeting railway arch traders in Bancroft Road. Picture: Mike BrookeMayor John Biggs (centre) meeting railway arch traders in Bancroft Road. Picture: Mike Brooke

Local authorities like Tower Hamlets and Hackney may be interested in putting in bids, now “alternative proposals” to the fire sale could be considered.

Network Rail’s 4,500 arches are due to be sold to a single buyer by the end of the year. But negative publicity has already led one of the five shortlisted bidders to withdraw, according to the Guardians of the Arches.

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