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Business owners face closure as Network Rail pushes on with billion-pound asset sale

Business owners based in railway arches around the UK face closure as Network Rail goes ahead with plans to sell off infrastructure assets in a billion-pound sale.

A buyer will purchase all 5,500 arches by the end of the year, which will allow tenants to remain. Yet some business owners have already been forced to close due to rents enforced by Network Rail.

Network Rail have said that rent reviews happen periodically as part of normal business and are not connected in any way to the sale, and no business has experienced a rent increase anywhere near the amount stated – arguing the majority (85%) of rent reviews are agreed at an increase of 10% or less.

Deputy head of media at Network Rail Paula Whitworth said: "We are proud to have so many small, diverse, independent businesses thriving on our property estate – of the 4,455 arch spaces that we let out, fewer than 30 are directly let to national chains – and we don’t want that to change.

"We want to retain good tenants and when the time comes to review rents we always work with businesses to come up with solutions that work for them, including stepped increases to help them manage any changes. Once the sale is completed all current leases and arrangements will transfer to the new owner and be protected."

Action group Guardians of the Arches has been set up to combat the plans to sell the arches to private firms. On its website, the group says: “We are already under huge pressure from Network Rail. Some of us have already been forced to close. Others have had to move out of places they’ve been doing business in for decades, with terrible consequences for their own businesses and for the places and communities they have had to leave behind.

“This has to stop. It’s easy to forget this, but Network Rail is publicly owned. And the land it owns is public too.

“That means they have a responsibility to serve the public good. They say the government is forcing them to balance the books, so they have to sell off their assets – including the arches. But how many small businesses will go under as a result? Is that really serving the public good?”

But a spokesman for Network Rail told Sky News: “The sale of Network Rail's arches will enable the company to raise funds to improve the railway network for the benefits of millions of daily users.

“Some areas have seen marked regeneration in recent years which can lead to increased rents but we will always do our best to stagger any increase.”

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