Underneath the arches of Britain’s rail infrastructure, a huge political row is brewing. Network Rail is in the advance stages of plans to sell off its 5,500 railway arches across the country for a short-term cash injection, selling out the thousands of small businesses that use the arches.
Wracked by the uncertainty over their business premises being sold by a publicly owned company to a hedge fund or multi-national corporation, the £1.2 billion auction is the last thing these small traders need with Brexit bringing its own difficulties. Many of the traders have recently reported rent increases of more than 300 per cent.
We have got to stick together and make a big force to beat Network Rail and the Government
But the business owners who have thrived in these spaces are fighting back. A group called Guardians of the Arches – made up of traders from Gateshead, Leeds, London, Manchester and beyond – gathered in Parliament on Tuesday to launch its campaign to #SaveOurArches.
Ronnie Grant is 93½ years old. He has rented railway arches for more than half a century for his Clapham North MOT business, which is now run by his son, George.
Ronnie said: “I have been a tenant of Network Rail since 1960 – they have done absolutely nothing to our arches except put the rent up.
“My rent has just increased by 350 per cent but we have not come to an agreement yet. We have got to stick together and make a big force to beat Network Rail and the government.”