Akintola savages Network Rail as Oddbins faces London Bridge eviction

Network Rail is “coldly ripping out the hearts of neighbourhoods across London and the UK”, according to Oddbins’ managing director, Ayo Akintola.

In a fiercely worded letter to London’s Evening Standard, he accused the government agency of “systematic social cleansing” of London’s independent retailers.

Akintola was responding to the news that the off-licence chain is to be evicted from its London Bridge store after 27 years.

Oddbins recently received six-months’ notice from its landlord, Network Rail, which intends to redevelop the site.

Network Rail’s commercial property portfolio is valued at around £1 billion.

It recently appointed investment bank Rothschild to assess its portfolio with a view to a possible sell-off.

 “Typically, landlords have the right to prematurely evict a tenant if they want to carry out extensive development of the site,: Akintola said.

“But Network Rail isn’t a typical landlord – it is a government owned property giant. It has a responsibility to manage its portfolio for the benefit of the communities in which it has a major property stake.

“It is sprucing up its property portfolio as a prelude to its sale,” he added.

"This is already happening in Brixton and is bound to happen right across London and other communities across the UK as Network Rail flogs its property arm — probably to an overseas buyer with no social mandate whatsoever.”

Network Rail’s plans for the London Bridge site involve expanding the station’s current capacity for 56 million passengers to some 90 million.

The eviction notice served on Oddbins is part of wider programme of refurbishment and expansion for the retail units surrounding the station.

“There is a strong aspiration among locals (council, residents, businesses) – which we share – for Network Rail to invest in these units in order to provide a fitting gateway to the new station,” a spokesman said.

“The existing units are down at heel and significantly under-let; our plans will bring the large basements of these properties into use for the first time, which could be used, for example, to provide restaurant seating.

"The vast majority of businesses that rent our properties are small businesses and we want that to continue. Of the 4,000 arch units that we manage in London, fewer than 20 are leased to chains.

“Network Rail is Britain's biggest landlord to small and medium sized businesses because it provides decent, affordable premises in prime locations.

“Our commercial estate is home to a rich and diverse mix of tenants, from micro-breweries and hairdressers to dance studios and restaurants.  

“Our plans for London Bridge station will see more than 80 new retail units both inside the station and out including a number set aside for local start-ups - a first for Network Rail.

“We first informed our tenants of our aspirations several years ago and have remained in contact throughout that period.

“Every penny of income from these properties is reinvested in the railway, helping to keep costs down for passengers and taxpayers.”

Oddbins has 47 stores nationwide, with thirty of them in London.

It won Best Specialist Drinks Retailer of the Year at this year's Harpers Awards.