BY KIRSTY PURNELL
Protesters locked arms around a controversial railway arch last week to mark the three-year anniversary of Network Rail announcing plans to evict traders.
A three-minute silence was also held to mark every year that has passed since Network Rail unveiled their arch refurbishment plans.
Campaigners staged the demo on Sunday, February 4, to raise awareness of alleged “very real dangers” posed by Network Rail’s works, which officially began on February 5.
It was also a mark of solidarity with the three traders who have refused to vacate their arch and continue to trade there.
Campaigners believe Network Rail’s works pose fire safety risks, will affect emergency access, will create dangerous levels of dust and air pollution and may release asbestos in the area. Network Rail said all asbestos removal from the site had already been completed, and assured the public that safety is its paramount concern and that it will remain in full compliance with Lambeth council’s planning conditions.
Campaigners also argue the anticipated risk to nearby traders – noise and dust and air pollution – is in contravention of planning conditions set by Lambeth council, which stated that the works must not affect the livelihoods of people in the adjacent market.
Nick Lewis, a retired construction professional and Save Brixton Arches campaigner, led the campaign against the plans and has serious concerns about fire risks.
The Loughborough Junction resident said: “Basic compliance is not enough. You can’t compromise on safety and it’s just not right to simply fulfil what the local authority asked you to do – that’s not right. You need to go beyond.
“I can’t stop anything but I can advise anyone who will listen to me that it’s not safe. There are big shortfalls in the arrangements and the risk of fire will persist.
“Grenfell should have been the line but it’s only taken a year for people to return to a basic, penny pinching approach to safety.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We have significant experience of delivering schemes across the country and will be complying with the terms of the planning permission, particularly in respect of ensuring the safety of our contractors, traders and the community.
“This includes appropriate fire safety, vehicle management and dust control, all of which has been scrutinised and approved by Lambeth council.”
Campaigners are also concerned that market traders outside the arches, many of whom sell fresh food, will find it impossible to continue trading because of air and dust pollution.
Potent Whisper, activist, rapper and Brixton Arches campaigner, said: “It’s not just about solidarity with the three remaining traders but fighting to protect businesses and livelihoods of traders in Brixton Station Road.”
A Lambeth council spokesman said: “Network Rail is aware of its obligations in relation to these works, and is legally obliged to meet them. Lambeth council will ensure they comply.”
The Brixton Arches saga began three years ago when Network Rail announced it would be terminating leases and taking possession of all arches to complete essential maintenance and refurbishment.
It promised traders they could return to a refurbished arch on stepped rents until 2025 but the Brixton Arches campaign has always challenged this claim.
The arches area of Brixton is traditionally home to small independent retailers and the community fears refurbished arches will lead to high rents only affordable to chains.
Four traders, eventually reduced to three, challenged the legality of the eviction and have continued to trade inside.
They are currently in mediation with Network Rail and were due to go to court on February 12, as this newspaper went to press, if they are unable to reach a settlement.