Network Rail wants to redevelop the beloved London neighbourhood and has written to traders telling them to move
London, I love you (in a Stockholm syndrome way), but you're bringing me down. With another day comes another tale of developers strangling the places that make this city amazing and saying "actually, you know what, we can put a Pret there, a Subway there and send hundreds of wannabe Sloane Islanders into area to Taser anyone who complains." The latest district to fall victim to gentrification? Brixton, whose traders – many of whom have been there for decades – are facing eviction.
This week, Network Rail wrote to shop owners along Atlantic Road, Brixton Station Road and Pope’s Road to tell them that to move while it redevelops the railway arches around a key, much-loved trading area. The whole process that will take around 12 months, and tenants will need to vacate their premises later this year.
Outraged Londoners have already started a campaign calling on Network Rail to abandon its proposals – a Change.org petition has already drawn close to 6,300 signatures in less than two days.
According to Network Rail, the current state of the arches poses no health and safety risk. The company is simply taking an opportunity to refurbish the area, albeit one with drastic consequences for individual businesses.
The areas targeted for eviction aren't just fruit and veg shops and mom and pop stores – they're a colourful and vibrant part of South London. Over the years, graffiti artists have daubed on the shop shutters. Over time, entire communities have built up around these businesses. In short, it's way better than a shitload of chain stores selling the same stuff to make a few people really rich.
While Network Rail promises to help evictees with a "package of financial and professional support including assistance to find relocation premises", a spokesperson did admit to Dazed that rent would increase drastically should the evicted tenants wish to move back.
For many, Network Rail's planned redevelopment of the area will sound the death knell for businesses that they've built over sustained periods. We spoke to a member of staff from LS Mash & Sons, South London's first ever fishmonger. The shop has been in business under the arches since 1931.
"There's nothing we can do," the 62-year-old said. "There's nowhere we can go and we can't afford another shop, new fridges or freezers. They'll rip the character out of the place – we've got beautiful marble in here. We're a local fishmonger and if they relocated us to Streatham or Greenwich it wouldn't make a difference. We're well known round here and well respected, we'd have to start all over again and get new clients."
A Brixton grocer faced with eviction wrote on the Urban75 forum: "New units to be available from 2017, but there’s no 'first refusal' given to us on the increased new rents that will come with any new tenancy. We have to apply like anyone else interested. So it looks like after over 40 years, its Goodbye A & C Continental Grocers & hello Pret a Manger, Waitrose Local etc."
Network Rail is yet to secure planning permission for the mooted redevelopment. But once (or if) it does, it will begin the refurbishment to the railway arches and evict the traders that have helped to define the area for generations. "Hey guys! Can't wait to split a footlong sub under the arches," said no-one, ever.
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