In a move that has gone unnoticed by most, Network Rail has sold off its thousands of railway arches, many of them home to venues, clubs and studios that are vital for the health of independent culture. Ed Gillet explores this grievous threat to the UK.
If you live in the UK and have even the faintest interest in underground music, chances are you’ll find yourself enjoying it under a railway arch at some point in your life: getting sweaty to some pounding techno in a dimly-lit club, pondering a sound art piece in an under-the-radar gallery, or just finding an inexpensive rehearsal room in which to hone your craft.
For decades, railway arches have housed thousands of independent businesses for whom traditional high street locations remain off-limits due to noise, mess or cost. For creators and supporters of grassroots music, where profits are precarious and suitable spaces constantly at a premium, the low overheads and enviable sound insulation provided by a thick dome of British Rail brickwork have been a priceless resource.
However, it’s currently unclear how long this state of affairs will last. Earlier this month, Network Rail announced the sell-off of their entire property portfolio, including some 4,500 railway arches, to the private sector. Their buyers are the massive private equity firms Blackstone and Telereal Trillium, whose joint £1.5bn bid saw off rival offers from Goldman Sachs and several others from amongst the global financial elite.