Protests against Brixton Market landlord Hondo Enterprises’ attempts to evict longstanding community food shop Nour Cash and Carry have escalated, with campaigners Save Nour accusing the developer of misleading the community about its reasons for the eviction.
Hondo Enterprises served Nour with an eviction notice in January, which quickly led to community protests against the loss of a business that has been in Brixton for almost 20 years. Those protests escalated with the onset of COVID-19, at which stage the landlord justified its unwillingness to rescind an eviction in the middle of a pandemic by claiming that it was for essential, unavoidable electrical work — which it said was designed to benefit the market as a whole. Hondo has repeatedly based this justification on advice from U.K. Power Networks (UKPN), which assists businesses in ensuring they have sufficient electrical capacity to operate.
In a statement to Dazed following its reporting on digital protests, a subsequent statement to Vice, the statement shared by Save Nour on 3 June, and a statement to Eater London, Hondo has either used the phrase “U.K. Power Networks informed us [that the electrical substation] had to go in Nour’s unit,” or quoted a UKPN statement calling it the “only suitable location” when discussing the location of the new electrical substation.
Save Nour is now disputing the claim that the eviction is unavoidable, after sharing evidence from UKPN and local councillors. It says this amounts to Hondo Enterprises misleading the Brixton Market and Brixton community about its motivations, “rather than take responsibility for their cruel decisions.” The crux of Save Nour’s argument is that UKPN would not make the final decision on any electrical installation’s location.
CAMPAIGN UPDATE: Taylor McWilliams has been misleading everyone about his reason for evicting Nour.— Save Nour Save Brixton (@SaveNour) June 3, 2020
This was never about an electrical substation. This is about how our community shop does not fit into one rich white man’s vision for Brixton Market.
Our statement here pic.twitter.com/brjemoqS2x
In an online discussion with Save Nour, verified by a statement from UKPN to Eater, UKPN says:
If a new substation is required for a customer’s site, we work with them to decide where the new substation is to be installed, offering technical advice and options. We do not dictate where new substations are installed, however we do advise where required. In this case, our design team explored a number of locations and recommended the most suitable option. However ultimately it is always a customer’s decision where on their property the new substation is constructed.
This would appear to contradict Hondo Enterprises’s continued claims that the location of that substation in Nour’s unit is not in its control, which has, up to now, been its justification for continuing the removal of a vital food hub for the Brixton community. In response, Hondo told Eater that: “We have seen the tweet from the @SaveNour account quoting UKPN saying that they did not advise the location of the substation to be within Nour’s unit. UKPN has admitted that they have been misquoted by the Save Nour Save Brixton campaign. They have stated that they were only responding in general terms and that they were not talking specifically about the issues within Brixton Market.”
When Eater approached UKPN about the alleged misquoting, it said that this related to a tweet mentioning “policy.” A spokesperson said, “Our director did not mention policy, but said “To answer your specific question regarding if UKPN would ever stipulate that a new substation could only be built directly adjacent to an existing one. The answer is unlikely although [...] we do work with the customer to agree the most suitable location on site.”
It appears therefore that the alleged misquoting does not refer to the discrepancy between Nour’s unit being “the most suitable” location or the “only place suitable,” on which Hondo Enterprises’s claim to enforcing eviction apparently rests.
Hondo Enterprises has also maintained that it is offering “a coming resolution that would keep Nour open.” Nour’s Saja Shaheen recently told the New Statesman that the “resolution” amounts to “a yard space for a four-year lease they don’t have planning permission for yet, at a ridiculously high rent. We asked to stagger the rent but they wouldn’t.” Planning permission for the yard space in the market has now been granted by the council, according to Vice, but it appears that no planning documentation yet exists for the work on Nour’s unit that would require its eviction.
At an unofficial branch meeting on 21 May, Lambeth’s Coldharbour ward Labour councillor Scarlett O’Hara told attendees that Hondo Enterprises had not submitted any substation plans to either the council or Nour Cash and Carry. Multiple attendees have verified this testimony; O’Hara did not immediately respond to Eater’s request for comment, but has subsequently submitted a petition to keep Nour in its current location to a full meeting of Lambeth Council, according to a report in Brixton Blog.
With the eviction date set for 22 July and no deal for any new space signed, uncertainty still hangs over a vital community hub. A recently released video interviewing people shopping at the market, details its vital stocking of affordable Caribbean and West African staples like cassava, yam, saltfish, and ackee, none of which, one customer points out, are available in the U.K.’s main supermarkets and all of which are vital to the Caribbean and West African communities in the area.
This is all taking place in a Brixton where the eviction of local delis, fishmongers, and grocers on Atlantic Road by Lambeth Council and Network Rail in 2016 is long in the memory. Nour itself was served with a 22 percent rent rise in 2012 by previous landlord In Shops Retail, which backed down after a community response similar to that against Hondo now; the gentrification of Brixton served as a springboard for now large, successful chains like Franco Manca and Honest Burgers, while attendant increasing rents led established businesses to close. That the threat of Nour’s closure has gathered such a strength of feeling in a community wearily accustomed to its contours being remapped by the unchecked desires of developers is a testament to its importance.