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Save the arches: Network Rail sells railway arches in £1.5bn deal

Blackstone and Telereal Trillium will be the new owners of the arches despite The Big Issue-backed Guardian of the Arches campaign

Guardians of the Arches

The Guardians of the Arches’ battle to stop Network Rail from selling off the nation’s railway arches has ended after an agreement was reached to sell them for £1.46bn.

Despite assurances from the government that it would listen to all parties and consider all bids before making a decision, it has now pulled the rug out from underneath the thousands of business owners and tenants across the country.

Financial services and investment firms Blackstone and Telereal Trillium will hold equal ownership stakes in the deal, announced yesterday, that includes 5,200 properties, the majority of which are arches. Network Rail intends to use the generated funds to support railway upgrades and improvements.

Responding to the news, Guardians of the Arches spokesperson said: “Throughout this process we have sought to ensure that small businesses are genuinely protected so that the arches can thrive. We continue to dispute whether selling off the whole estate in one job lot is the best way of supporting small businesses and the local economies which rely on them.

“There is a long way to go in the sale process, but if Blackstone and Telereal successfully purchase the estate we trust they will follow up on their stated intention to put ‘tenants first’ in their management of the estate. A starting point would be to meet out demands for a full, transparent rent and lease audit, and to recognise Guardians of the Arches formally as a tenants’ association. We represent hundreds of businesses, and our number is growing every day. It is in the interests of all concerned that our proposals are taken on board.”

The Big Issue-backed campaign to halt the sale was launched in June with tenants fearing rent hikes – one tenant reported a rent increase of 350 per cent – and eviction that could threaten their livelihoods.

Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue and vocal backer of the campaign to save the arches, said: “The proof of the pudding is always in the eating. As long-term owners of the estate, Telereal and Blackstone must now demonstrate how they’ll live up to their claims of putting tenants first.

“As concerns continue to grow around the future of our high street, it’s more important than ever that these new owners work with the tenants of these unique and enterprising small businesses by valuing, enhancing and capitalising on their vast social and economic impact.

The Guardians of the Arches campaign goes on. Tenants must ensure these new owners don’t snitch on the deal. Throughout this process, the lack of consultation has been appallingly medieval. We rightly expected much, much more from a government that says it’s on the side of Britain’s small businesses.”

Hopes were raised in July when transport minister Jo Johnson agreed to consider local alternatives to the sale.

But Network Rail, who retain access rights for operating the railway, dashed those hopes when they confirmed the deal yesterday. Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Network Rail chair, said: “This deal is great news – for tenants it will mean significant commitment and investment, and for passengers and taxpayers it will mean massive, essential improvements without an extra burden on the public purse.”

Graham Edwards, co-founder and chairman of Telereal, added: “The arches portfolio is a unique and vital part of the UK economy. We are tremendously excited by the prospect of working with its entrepreneurial tenant base – made up of car mechanics, bakeries, micro-breweries, restaurants, and just about every type of business you can think of. These tenants are a vibrant part of many local economies and communities.

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