A group representing thousands of businesses who operate in railway arches has written to the transport minister, asking him to protect their interests as Network Rail looks to sell off its £1.5b property portfolio.
Businesses in the arches, including restaurants, bars, cafés and bakeries, are concerned they will face large increases in rent once the properties are handed over to private landlords.
In an attempt to safeguard the businesses, Guardians of the Arches, which is seeking recognition as a formal tenants association, has called on Transport Minister Jo Johnson to intervene.
Its proposals include introducing audits on rent rates and leases, restrictions on future rent increases and for businesses to be given the opportunity buy parts of the estate.
In its letter to the minister it states: "We represent the thousands of business owners around the country based in railway arches.
"As business people, we do not expect to be given unfair advantages over others. We simply want to ensure there is a fair and level playing field so that our businesses and the communities we serve can have a chance to thrive."
Network Rail has claimed new ownership of the arches will provide greater investment in the portfolio.
David Biggs, managing director of Network Rail property, said: "We are selling a thriving estate of small and independent businesses and we believe the portfolio is a highly attractive business with growth potential.
"We are proud that we have so many independent and diverse businesses thriving on our commercial estate, and for the tenants that run these it will be business as usual once the estate is sold. All lease arrangements will transfer to the new owner and all arrangements and protections will stay in place.
‘We believe a new owner will bring more investment to the commercial estate, benefiting tenants and local communities, and creating jobs and stimulating economic growth.
"The sale is completely unconnected with periodic rent reviews which are part of our normal business activity. Our rents are based on local property market values with the vast majority of reviews, around 85%, agreed at an increase of 10% or less."
Picture: Sarah Ainslie