John Hobday, chairman and co-founder of Anspach & Hobday brewery, in the London Bridge area has recently joined a tenants’ rights campaign.
The Guardians of the Arches tenants’ group has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help it create a representative body for small businesses operating under railway arches and to raise awareness of rent hikes.
Network Rail made £1.46bn when it sold the commercial property leases of some 5,200 properties to Blackstone Group and Telereal Trillium in September 2018.
The National Audit Office (NAO) spending watchdog concluded railway bosses only considered tenants of the arches late in the sale and had not “explicitly” considered how to protect tenants.
The watchdog also found that rent charged for the properties sold could increase by 54% over the next three to four years.
A lack of communication in the process of the national sale was the start of anxiety among several business owners on the south London beer mile.
Spiral out of control
Hobday explained: “You have areas like Bermondsey that have become quite almost nationally famous places of regeneration but there is still a danger rents could spiral out of control and, if it’s not looked after, it could end up going the same way that a poorly run high street does.”
Network Rail Property managing director David Biggs said: “Proceeds from the sale of our commercial estate were used to fund essential improvements for passengers and freight users.
“Our role is to safely run, improve and grow the railway for everyone that relies on it and the sale has enabled us to deliver a number of schemes while, at the same time, tenants and communities will benefit from investment in the estate by the new owner.
“We are proud we have helped develop so many independent and diverse businesses and we remain confident that they will continue to thrive.”
The Arch Company said it was committed to working with its tenants to agree satisfactory rents during an ongoing rent renewal period.
A spokesperson for The Arch Co added: “We will be long-term investors in our estate and we want to build strong, long-term relationships with our tenants to ensure that they stay with us for as long as possible and that their businesses thrive.
“We have publicly stated our desire to achieve fair market rents, but we recognise different tenants have different needs and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
“We’re working with our tenants in a considered way to address affordability issues and ensure that we find solutions during the rent review process that work for all of us.
“Our railway arches are typically the best value spaces in the Bermondsey area and provide attractive spaces for taprooms and brewers, as is evident from the large numbers who have decided to set up their businesses in our arches.
“The Bermondsey Beer Mile is a fantastic feature of this part of London and we’re proud that our tenants play a vital role in its success.”
Hobday said he felt the company was being receptive to suggestions on how to improve relationships and moves to revive disused arches.
He added: “The community elements in the high street have all moved to the supermarkets and died.
“It is quite special to go to a place like our brewery where you can come in on a weekend and drink in our taproom and have beer that is fresh from the production in the same arches that it is being produced.”