Why are the shops on Railton Road empty?
Network Rail launched an investment scheme to refurbish and redevelop the arches on Railton Road in early 2017. When The Arch Company purchased Network Rail’s property estate in February 2019 the redevelopment was nearing completion. There remained, however, a lack of available power to some of the properties because the power originally available had been redistributed elsewhere.
Significant work has been completed since last year to identify the most appropriate location for a new substation. A planning application has been submitted to Lambeth Council for this, along with supporting information. A decision is due in June 2020.
Should planning approval be obtained, work to install a substation to provide power to the remaining shops will then start. Formal legal negotiations will need to be completed with UK Power Networks. Our aspiration is to have the scheme completed by the end of the year, but given the current constraints of Covid-19 that we all face, this timescale may extend.
Completion of the development at Railton Road is a crucial part of our vision to bring hundreds of vacant properties back into use to provide much-needed space for small and medium-sized businesses.
Why didn’t you know you needed to provide upgraded power earlier in the process?
While all the properties had been occupied previously, some parts of the development had not been used for many years and the refurbishment brought a larger space into use. Unfortunately, a delay to starting the works meant that several properties had been vacant for a long period. When properties are vacant, the power drawn by them can be redistributed by UK Power Networks to other properties in the area unless a standing charge is paid by the owner to reserve the power. At the outset of the refurbishment scheme, the electrical power required for it was not secured and the situation only became apparent some way into the construction programme. At this point, the remaining available power was secured, but this was only sufficient to power three retail units and two residential flats.
Since February 2019, we have completed significant work to investigate options, fully scope them and liaise with all relevant authorities to identify the steps needed to put the right solution in place. In September 2019 we submitted a planning application based on the only viable option for the scheme (and a last resort) – siting a substation in property number 315.
We regret the delay caused by the lack of power supply and we have been working as hard as we can to rectify this. Contractors are ready to start their programme of work as soon as we know the planning outcome.
What power solutions have you investigated?
The use of photo-voltaic cells attached to the roof of our property and the adjoining building was investigated following discussions with the Herne Hill Forum and Re-Powering London. The roof of the property is not large enough and the flat roof on the adjoining building is not considered a viable option because:
- The building is let on a long lease to a third party, who would need to grant rights to enable the construction of the cells on their roof space
- The power needed for the properties is such that PV panels could not provide enough power outside of daylight hours without the need for a battery back-up to be installed on the roof
- The option would only provide enough power for the phase two development, with no surplus to improve the supply to the phase one properties
- The existing adjacent building is in poor condition and is unlikely to have the structural capacity to support the PVs and battery back-up needed. It is also likely, given the age of the building, that it will be subject to redevelopment in the medium-term.
Our utilities consultants, Cenna, were asked to consider several possible locations for a substation (as the only viable option), considering the stringent pre-requisites imposed by UK Power Networks for siting this equipment. They investigated 12 different locations and property 315 was deemed the most suitable of these options.
Why do you need planning permission to provide power to the shops?
Planning permission is needed to change the design of the front of property 315 and to change its use from retail to Sui Generis (suitable for a substation).
Where can I find the planning application?
The planning application and associated documents is available on the Lambeth council planning portal at https://planning.lambeth.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?keyVal=PXQ2X1BOKPA00&activeTab=summary.
Will you make money from UK Power Networks for putting the substation there?
No. The Arch Company will not be paid rent by the utilities supplier for the use of this property and will in fact lose any rental income that would have been generated from the retail use originally intended.
Are businesses being put off renting the shops by your demands for high rents?
No. We have several prospective tenants who have expressed interest or are in negotiation with us regarding the properties on Railton Road.
Our rental strategy for Herne Hill reflects the community’s desire for interesting independently run shops and services. We are interested to talk to businesses with a distinct offer that suits the local area and we are aware that each individual business will have different needs, so we are working with interested parties to discuss arrangements for fitting out the properties and to agree appropriate rents.
How long will it be before the shops are occupied?
A new tenant, Lark (an independent, family-run gift shop), moved into one of the units that has existing power supply at the end of March. The Coronavirus pandemic has unfortunately prevented them from opening to the public, but they are nearing the completion of fit-out and plan to open when the lockdown is lifted.
If planning approval is obtained for the substation to power the other shops, work to install it will start. Formal legal negotiations will need to be completed with UK Power Networks. Our aspiration is to have the scheme completed by the end of the year, but given the current constraints of Covid-19 that we all face, this timescale may extend.
Who are the likely tenants?
We have interest from a number of prospective tenants for the properties at Railton Road. We are seeking to make these properties available to dynamic small and medium sized businesses that are in keeping with the unique local business community.
Lark, an independent gift shop, moved into one of the Railton Road properties with existing power supply, on 16 March.
Is it true that one of the potential tenants is Gail’s Bakery?
We had interest from Gail’s Bakery for the larger property on the corner of Railton Road some time ago. However, this has not progressed.
Why haven’t you made use of the spaces in the meantime? Were community space or meanwhile space options considered?
We have considered several options to populate the site, including the potential use of pop-ups and meanwhile space uses. The lack of light, heat and connectivity that result from the power supply issues mean that the spaces are of limited use to this type of organisation. We are open to suggestions and ideas from the local community for how the spaces might be used until they are ready for occupation.
Is it true that squatters have been occupying the properties?
In January we were informed by a local resident that trespassers were in one of the properties. Our property management team immediately took action to secure the site and a possession order is now in place, enabling us to take swift action to remove trespassers from the properties should they return.