A group of shopkeepers in Well Street, south Hackney, is failing in its bid to resist rent increases that threaten their livelihoods as their landlord refuses efforts at a mediated solution.
Well Street is the famed London market street where Tesco founder Jack Cohen set up his first stall, but the area has suffered in recent years from a decline in market trading.
In this context, the shopkeepers have found it difficult to cope with rent hikes of up to 200 per cent and repair bills of more than £40,000 being demanded by a landlord which owns a number of the buildings on the street.
The landlord is St John Hackney Joint Estates Charity, a charity set up nearly 400 years ago to protect the poor and needy in East London. The traders fear that the charity wants to push them out in favour of more up-market shops; the charity, for its part, claims it is obliged to make a profit from the shops in order to fund its charitable activity.
Two shopkeepers, including one who appeared on BBC TV news criticising the charity, have recently received eviction notices.
The Chair of the Trustees of the charity, Geoffrey Taylor, notes that the negotiations with the shop traders are commercially confidential, and that he cannot discuss individual cases. He maintains, however, that “the charity and our agents are dealing with this in a professional manner”. He also denies that the recent eviction notices had anything to do with the television appearance of the shopkeeper in question.
The shopkeepers had appealed to the Bishop of London to help resolve the case. As a result, the Bishop of Willesden undertook to meet with both sides to broker a solution to the problem. The charity, however, refused this offer. “We took the view that the Bishop of Willesden didn’t need to get involved”, said Taylor.
Joanne Price, Co-Chair of Well Street Traders and Residents Association (WESTRA) was outraged: “We’ve had enough of this charity’s arrogant refusal to talk to anyone, including bishops and MPs. Who do they think they are? So much for being a church charity – they have shown no love or care for either their tenants, residents or this market street which is more than 150 years old.
“We made some proposals to the charity to improve the situation but they have ignored us. Local residents have tried to take out a lease on the charity’s shops and been rejected, leaving the property to continue to stay empty. What kind of madness is that in a time of recession?
“Well Street as a shopping area serving the very poor people this charity purports to help has been hit by the blight of these empty shops – numbering eight at the moment and growing – and lack of improvement to the shopfronts.”
More than 5,000 Hackney residents have signed a petition objecting to the treatment of the 25 independent shopkeepers.
More at Well Street Market.