Network Rail and Herne Hill - responsible landlord wanted!
As many people know Network Rail have finally decided to do something more substantial about the appalling conditions of the railway arches in Station Square. The shops along the parade from the launderette to Bleu have suffered from excessive water ingress, cold and damp conditions. Over the last two years they have tinkered around with repairing the roofs above some of the shops especially the old fishmongers. Scaffolding was put up and left there for over a year with little or no progress being made on the repairs. It was disruptive and damaging to all the traders nearby as well as the ones directly affected, a real blight on an already hard-hit local community. The end result was ineffective, the roofs still leaked, the traders still had appalling conditions from which to trade from.
Seeing the success of the activities in Station Square and the shops slowly returning in Half Moon Lane after the flood the number crunchers in Network Rail have realised that there is now an investment opportunity to be made. The renovated arches in Milkwood Road gave a far higher return than they originally expected, they want to do the same trick in Station Square, after all their brief is to get the highest return that they can, they say it is their "public duty".
The plans are to improve the space above each shop to allow the entire space on the ground floor and floors above to be rented out as one larger unit. The roofs will be replaced and the shop fronts revamped. At this stage the layouts of the shops have yet to be determined, some may be larger units.
No-one disputes that the shops are long overdue some repairs and renovation, the traders have been trying to get Network Rail to behave like a responsible landlord for years without success. Having rain water pouring through the roof of our local veg shop is not great; I like my veg freshly washed but not that way.
What is unique about Herne Hill is the wide range of independent traders that serve an extensive cross section of the community both in range of goods but also in price. Many traders have been here for decades, they look out upon Herne Hill more as their parish than just their livelihood. This special relationship; the characters, the colour, the vibrancy, the connections, are what is essential in a thriving, sustainable and resilient community.
The Herne Hill Forum has been meeting with Network Rail over the years to get them to manage their portfolio better and to invest in the area. They are a key commercial landlord in the area and the economic future of the area is reliant on landlords realising the long-term vision for an area and buying in to it. The revamp of the arches in Milkwood Road was their first serious investment in Herne Hill for decades.
Network Rail has talked about the need to ensure that only independent traders return to the revamped arches in Station Square. This is good, however they also say that they have to get the “market rent”, a concept that is so short-term as to be damaging. We are pressing them to ensure that the existing traders, who are anchor traders in the area can return at an affordable rent to ensure that they can continue to contribute to the wider community. If Network Rail pursue the “maximize at all times” policy then we will lose the key traders, the area will suffer over time and Network Rail, as a beneficiary to the success of the area will have been the driver of long term decline, not a great way to get their “maximum return” that they talk about. Having landlords that “get it” about curating an area for the right mix of traders so that it can ride out recessions without the empty shops cropping up everywhere is rare. Balancing out rents over a wider area so that there is a mix to encourage greater depth of commercial offers in an area is a skill that takes time to acquire and a long-term commitment from responsible landlords to implement.
It is about time that Network Rail, a company that in theory is owned by all of us realized that they are responsible to the communities that they serve. Historically they have done little to contribute to the improvements in our area, presiding over major commercial dereliction for many years. Turning up after the local community and local councils have done the hard work in improving the area and then cashing in and doing a smash and grab raid is not good business. It may look good for the next quarterly report, but it looks terrible for the long-term prognosis.
Chair: Herne Hill Forum
If you want to make your voice heard then contact the following councillors:
Herne Hill Ward:
Village Ward (the reprercussions will spread across to Southwark).
Tessa Jowell @jowellt