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Photo: Julie Al-Hinai

Photo: Julie Al-Hinai

Protesters gathered at the Brixton Arches to mark three years of the campaign to save it from regeneration. Julie Al-Hinai reports

Recessions and riots come and go but regeneration is relentless

says Rashid Nix, Green Party member for Lambeth and Southwark, addressing yesterday’s Third Anniversary of the campaign to save Brixton Arches from an unwanted, unneeded and much protested regeneration by Network Rail.

It’s 1,095 days since the richly diverse, long-term traders of Brixton Arches were given notice to quit. As Rashid Nix pointed out, it is Network Rail, a private company who put forward a proposal to bail out Railtrack, the collapsed rail infrastructure company, with public money that is now seeking to inflict considerable harm on a community wholeheartedly rejecting the development. “Corporate Fascism” Nix calls it and it must be opposed. 

The history, according to Brixton Buzz, is that “Despite a concerted campaign of petitions, community protests and demonstrations in support of the traders, most were hoofed out leaving behind a ‘dead zone’ in the heart of Brixton”. Just three remaining tenants of the original independent traders remain. We are not likely to see the return of those forced out on the promise by Network Rail that claimed 75% of traders would return. The promise to traders only came about after fierce campaigning by the Save Brixton Arches pressure group. Network Rail had not originally given traders any guarantee that they will be permitted to return to their arches. It was only after the ferocious community campaigning that they offered all tenants a guaranteed invitation to return. Even if they are invited to return, some will face the prospect of unaffordable ‘stepped’ rent increases of  300% at the end of 7 years. Now only 25% will have that opportunity as Network Rail has sold off many of the leaseholds thus rendering the agreements null and void. Even this 25% may be costed out of a return to trading in the future.

It is worth noting that Network Rail started the process of eviction 18 months before planning permission and the traders were moved out 18 months before the project starts today. It’s 3 years today from the notice of evictions.

Today’s protest, organised by local rapper and co-leader of the Save Brixton Arches Potent Whisper, is not only to show solidarity with the remaining traders at the Arches he says, but to highlight what he refers to as the “real dangers” to market traders and the general public in and around Brixton Station Road. The dangers associated with this development starting today (Monday 5th February) include unacceptable levels of noise, vibration and poor air quality, with dust and dangerous particulate matter, (PM 10’s and smaller), possibly carrying remnants of asbestos and other unpleasant materials directly into the lungs of the local community. No less the dangers posed by heavy construction vehicles, relentlessly plowing through Brixton Station Road and the resulting restricted access to emergency vehicles should they be needed.

All the more worrying as the Network Rail fire management plan will only protect their own contractors  and not the traders or the general public, interms of early warningsand muster points etc. Further fanning the fire of this local outrage will be the reduction of an already reduced footfall impacting on the small businesses facing the Arches and who are already experiencing a 70% drop in turnover, without compensation.

While a recent study by Brixton Buzz revealed that the majority of residents polled wanted the arches to stay exactly as they are:

  • 91% agreed that the Arches provide valuable goods and services for the local community
  • 56% of people disagreed that redevelopment of the Arches is necessary
  • 49% of respondents disagreed that adequate consultation had been carried out with regard to redevelopment of the Arches

It might well be assumed that perhaps even these figures are skewed by the polling of those new to the area and supportive of the gentrification process and so may not project the depth of feeling of the long time Brixton residents.

Green Party’s Rashid Nix calls  this project an act of “Social Cleansing” by Lambeth council, in cahoots with Network Rail and compares it to what many consider, as obscene planning permission and financial support by Lambeth to the locally bemoaned Pop Brixton; a product of the relentless gentrification in this treasured area of Brixton. As an aside, but no less controversial, Pop Brixton is owned by Makeshift, a company that was formed out of the original management team at Pop Brixton. This project is closely associated with Business park for the 21st Century’ the organisation running the recently opened Peckham Levels. Carl Turner, the businessman behind it, has a 12.5% ownership of Makeshift. The remaining 87.5% is owned by The Collective, a Mayfair based property business who like to target “ambitious young professionals.”

Lambeth Council loaned Pop Brixton £92,000 in 2015 to cover an increase in construction costs to build the Impact Hub work space to which it had already contributed £30,000 for the build.Without doubt it seems outside money talks in Lambeth while residents and trader’s voices are consistently dismissed or silenced.

After an introduction, and in his imitable rhyming style, Potent Whisper gave a warm welcome to Melisa, a campaigner against the HDV, who proudly announced that following a huge, publically based campaign, a groundswell of opposition, court action, direct action, lobbying and sheer solidarity of the people, the scheme has been put on hold. At least until after the forthcoming elections. One battle won against a Labour council but the war on regeneration continues unabated.

Following Melisa, Livingstone, a well-known activist for Grenfell survivors, reminded us

we have a right to dictate how the council spends our money, and a right to say no! No communities are safe when gentrification sets in.

Nick Lewis, a local resident providing technical support to the Save Brixton Arches campaign payed homage to Potent Whisper on his unswerving support for the campaign and called for continuing action to fight on. This battle is not yet lost while the three remaining tenants fight on as work proceeds in their midst.

Save Brixton Arches has stated that they will be closely and technically monitoring the pollution and other hazards to the traders and public in general.

They will not cease to hold Spence, the contractors, Network Rail and Lambeth Council to account. To keep updated you can follow their campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

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