Network Rail is looking to secure future infrastructure upgrades by selling off 5,200 commercial properties to US group Blackstone and London-based Telereal Trillium.
Rail bosses say the £1.46bn transaction will help fund the railway upgrade plan, bringing major improvements for passengers and reducing the need for taxpayers to fund the railway. Telereal and Blackstone will hold equal ownership stakes and intend to be long-term owners of the estate.
The rail organisation launched the sale of its commercial estate last November with much of the estate sold being converted railway arches. The sites are said to be being sold on a leasehold basis, with Network Rail retaining access rights for the future operation of the railway.
Sir Peter Hendy, Network Rail chair, said: “This has been a very thorough, detailed and complex process and we are pleased we’re now in a position to announce Telereal Trillium and Blackstone Property Partners as the new owners of the commercial estate. This deal is great news – for tenants it will mean significant commitment and investment, and for passengers and taxpayers it will mean massive, essential improvements without an extra burden on the public purse.”
But the transaction has ignited concerns among current tenants with a large proportion of the arches containing independent shops and garages. Owners fear unaffordable rents being imposed as a result.
Campaign group Guardians of the Arches, has already voiced criticisms on rent rises introduced by Network Rail in the run-up to the sale.
A spokesperson for the group said: “We continue to dispute whether selling off the whole estate in one job lot is the best way of supporting small businesses and the local economies which rely on them.”
But those within railway arches have been told they will be protected with the signing of a tenants charter which vows to listen to concerns about rent reviews and open up conversations with those affected.
Graham Edwards, co-founder and chairman of Telereal, said the firm would “provide the supportive environment in which these businesses can flourish on a long-term basis”.
“The arches portfolio is a unique and vital part of the UK economy,” he added. “We are tremendously excited by the prospect of working with its entrepreneurial tenant base – made up of car mechanics, bakeries, micro-breweries, restaurants, and just about every type of business you can think of. These tenants are a vibrant part of many local economies and communities.”