Traders on one of Hackney’s oldest market streets are facing eviction after their landlord, a charity, dropped out of crisis talks about rent increases last week.
Well Street Market, which is over 150 years old, is home to 25 independent businesses whose livelihoods are now under threat thanks to a 200 per cent rise in rent and £40,000 repair bill proposed by their landlord, St John Hackney Joint Estates Charity. Local residents have also been suffering from disturbances from a growing number of squatters in the empty flats and shops the charity has failed to let.
Earlier this year more than 5,000 supporters signed a petition in support of the market street, which includes an optician, post office, dentist and butcher. As a result of an appeal to the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Willesden met with both sides and arranged to chair a meeting between Well Street Traders and Residents Association and St John Hackney Joint Estates Charity, due to be held last week.
However, at the last minute the charity pulled out with no explanation and is now taking legal action to evict five tenants, including a woman who spoke out against them on BBC news in March.
Joanne Price, Co-Chair of WESTRA, said: “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?”
Ian Rathbone, Secretary of WESTRA, added: “It is a shame that a charity which has given money to ‘the poor of Hackney’ in the past, has become so unforgiving when it comes to the treatment of its own poor tenants, forcing them to pay over the top rents to cover up their own mistakes as a landlord.”
Keith Wallace, chief executive of the charity, said tenants had failed to respond to managing agents’ letters. He told the Hackney Gazette: “It would be quite wrong to hold a meeting with them while there are legal cases underway. I doubt if the shopkeepers who are voicing dissent are charging their customers at 1990 prices. Prices have gone up and so shop rents have too.”
St John Hackney Joint Estates Charity was founded by the Church of England almost 400 years ago to help the poor people of the East End of London, and has a property portfolio worth an estimated £20million.
Well Street is famous for being the location of Tesco founder Jack Cohen’s first stall in 1919. Now WESTRA are organising a relaunch of the street as a local place to shop on September 24. Click here for more information about the market.