By Daniel Hunter

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called for an urgent meeting with Network Rail Chief Executive Mark Carne to discuss its handling of small business tenants in railway arches off Brixton high street.

The FSB is concerned about the loss of local businesses, some of whom have been trading from the arches for many decades, and the future vibrancy of one of the country’s most dynamic areas.

The FSB understands Network Rail has contacted businesses in the Brixton rail arches, to notify them that in approximately six months they would have to leave their properties to allow mandatory refurbishment. It is understood around 20 small businesses will have to vacate for up to a year before returning to a revised rent, expected to be far higher than current levels.

A petition against the plans posted to a social media site has now attracted nearly 20,000 signatures. Following public concern, Network Rail has sought to make a number of concessions including unspecified compensation, a delayed schedule and staggering rent rises over a period of time. However, some traders are left with little certainty over whether they will be able to keep operating and many longstanding employees are fearful for their jobs.

Following a walk around the area to meet the local small businesses and hear how they have been affected, the FSB National Chairman John Allan said:

“At a time of declining high streets, Brixton has become one of the most vibrant and busy in the country. This success is a result of the hard work and longstanding commitment of local businesses who have traded even through extreme challenges. We question why Network Rail would not want to do everything in its power to support these successful local businesses, and the unique nature of this part of London.

“Network Rail is one of the largest small business landlords in the country. How it operates in London will be repeated in Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow. As a Government owned enterprise, it should set the standard for how other landlords behave.

“We want to see Network rail taking a much more sensitive approach to this development, working closely with the community and businesses before going ahead with their plans. We also want them to commit to maintaining the character and diversity of businesses that has made Brixton the success it is today. We would not want the area to be turned into yet another ‘clone town’ dominated by a few large brands.”

The Brixton Rail Arches sit at the centre of three key London constituencies. The Arches themselves are in the constituency of former Cabinet Minister Tessa Jowell and borders that of Shadow Business Minister Chuka Umunna and Advisor to the Mayor of London Kate Hoey.

Tessa Jowell, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, said:

"I'm delighted that FSB is championing the interests of these affected traders. While we all want to see economic development, it must not be at the expense of the small firms directly affected or the broader Brixton Market."