BYLINE: Grace Wong
Small businesses, including the designers who created Katie Price’s famed pink horse costume and the popular Union St Theatre, have been served eviction notices as part of plans to convert the railway arches into offices.
The six businesses in Union and Great Suffolk streets have been given notice to leave within three to six months by Network Rail.
One of the affected businesses is The Union Theatre, which has been running in the arches for fifteen years.
Network Rail issued new three year leases in October 2012, but then served notice at the end of February with most businesses having a notice date of June 8.
The businesses are reeling from the decision to convert the arches into high income office spaces. The majority will struggle to find premises of similar size and cost, they say.
Several have said an alternative development could be proposed, keeping artisan businesses with a mixed use development.They now plan to fight and object to Network Rail’s planning applications.
Adrian Gwillym, who owns Academy Costumes and works in TV, film and theatre with prestigious clientele including the Pirates of the Caribbean films is worried his business may fold as he is struggling to find workshop space due to high rents. He recently created the headline-grabbing pink pantomime horse costume for Katie Price, who wore it to launch a brand of clothing.
Union Theatre owner, Sasha Regan, built up her theatre over fifteen years. She said: “It’s very daunting fighting someone so huge, they have deep pockets and no fear. They have nothing to lose.”
Julian Wilson, owner of Rocket Van Removal has been there for over six years. He said: “The worst case scenario is people lose their jobs. It’s a bit like growing a tree, uprooting it and taking it somewhere else won’t mean it will necessarily survive.”
A bespoke carpenter, Millennium City Garages and Bangkok Kitchen restaurant are also threatened with eviction.
Simon Hughes, MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, said: “I will do all I can with the businesses and local councillors to ensure that Network Rail do ensure these businesses continue to flourish.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We are planning to refurbish the railway arches in Union Street as part of our wider regeneration plans. Rental income from our property helps reduce the cost of the railway to passengers and the taxpayer which is why we continue to invest in improving it. However, we are aware of the importance of small and medium sized businesses and the contribution they make to local economies. We apologise if our tenants feel that communication around this could have been better. We will continue to hold discussions with all parties to help them relocate where possible to other Network Rail premises in the area.”
An online petition to save the local businesses has already received over 3000 signatures. To sign the petition click here