Terminating my tenancy at 5 Cherry Tree Walk - Latitude Wine & Liquor Merchant

Terminating my tenancy at 5 Cherry Tree Walk

There's so much water under the bridge (or Arch, if you'll excuse the pun).

It’s safe to say that the sixteen years under this archway have been a success for Latitude Wine & Liquor Merchant. When I took the lease on it was already a wine shop, the shelves were up, the shutters and alarm were already in place. Rob and Mick Hoult had successfully managed to run the Leeds arm of their family business from the arch for over a decade before. When we moved in, we were a small start-up, we have grown to the point where we are bursting at the seams, as such moving to a new, larger premises is the obvious next step. That’s a positive step, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The positives of moving out of 5 Cherry Tree Walk is somewhat overshadowed by negative circumstances that leave a dank taste in the mouth.

From day one, the hardest part of getting Latitude off the ground was the landlord, Network Rail. I engaged a solicitor to advise me on the lease they presented, she told me that it was contradicted in places, and advised me not to sign. I took this criticism back to the asset manager, he said thousands of other businesses had signed the exact same lease, he wasn't re-writing it for me. 

I had gotten giddy and started ordering stock, so went against legal advice and entered into the lease. Initially this was fine, until I asked whether the damp plaster behind the shelf could be investigated. After many twists and turns, 16 years later, it still hasn't been properly investigated, and as you’d expect, the problem has worsened.

Image 1: Some of the visible mould and damp above our heads


There is provision in that lease for a "back to brick inspection" at least every 12 years. Despite actively trying to get someone to do that inspection since 2019, I have just been informed that there is no more budget for inspections until 2025. The Hoults moved in in 1993, this arch was never inspected fully during their tenure, so that's over 30 years since anybody looked at the mistakes Network Rail made in the early '90's, and those mistakes made are quite something.

The composite of a ‘habitable’ arch way should consist of two major barriers. Firstly, a membrane underneath the Railway line (what is essentially our roof), designed to stop the worst of the rainwater from permeating the “roof”. Secondly, a series of “high impact plastic lining sheets”, are attached to the interior of the arch (what is essentially our ceiling). According to the company that manufactures the lining “The corrugated lining ensures any water that has permeated the arch brickwork is directed around the arch into floor level soak away, gutters or drainage channels.”

 Image 2: Photo taken during the back to brick inspection of Number 4 Cherry Tree walk before the unit was taken off the property market. This is on the other side of our wall.


This all sounds very good and sensible, right? Well, it would be if the roof membrane wasn’t fitted in the 1870’s (we doubt it’s still there, let alone waterproof) and Network Rail had installed adequate guttering. But alas, water settles on our flat gravel roof, seeps through the ancient brickwork, and is directed by the ceiling lining into a lovely, festering pool of stagnant water. Compounding this is the fact that, if you line damp, Victorian stone with plastic, you remove all the ventilation. Stagnant water, lack of drainage and poor ventilation mixed create two things, damp, and mould. I have a mould allergy and worsening asthma. I'm allergic to my own shop!

 Image 3: The situation above our service desk. 


If my rent is any indication, it seems that dank railway arches are at a premium. The lease I signed 16 years ago goes up by inflation +1% every year, for eternity. Early on in my tenancy this was less burdensome because inflation tanked for over a decade thanks to a banking crisis and recession.

Then came Brexit, Covid and the Russian invasion of Ukraine precipitating a monumental increase in inflation. On top of this, in 2018 Network Rail, at the behest of Jo Johnson (yes, Boris' Bro') and Chris "Failing" Grayling, my lease was sold to the Arch Co. (for the sake of narrative you can find more details on this below) *


Image 4: The brickwork at the back of our unit.


As a result of the staggeringly high inflation my rent has gone up by 25% in just two years. Coming out of Covid, the Arch Co. demanded equally high rent increases from my neighbours. Pertemps left 1 Cherry Tree Walk in 2021, Halo hairdressing at number 4 left last March. Last year Network Rail managed to remove the lining at number one to carry out a long overdue back to brick inspection, the workmen hastily abandoned the site without refitting the lining and the unit was promptly taken off the market, number four followed suit pretty quickly. I’ll leave it to you to consider what was discovered behind the lining that led to this decision, suffice to say both units are still empty and unmarketable.


Image 5: The state of 1 Cherry Tree Walk where the inspection was abandoned. The unit is now  flooded and the mezzanine is falling apart.


I am fortunate enough to say my business has grown and I can afford inflation. I could stay here, in the unit that has served us well for so long. However, with the unit directly next to us being empty for nearly a year now, with no doors opening, no air-conditioning moving air around, no heating drying out the damp, we have seen an alarming increase in the level and damp and mould development in our shop. Every time it rains a puddle develops underneath the desk. The mould inches increasingly closer to my stock. My staff grow increasingly miserable and sick. My sense of smell continues to disappear.  Our new neighbours are rodents. The services provided by our landlord to keep the street clean don’t come by anymore. The situation, just like the smell, is unbearable.

Image 6: Staff member Mark cleaning up some of the mould in the corner that floods when it rains.


I find myself asking, “What the f*** am I paying for?”. And so, I am ecstatic-over-the-moon-thrilled that today I hand my notice into the Arch Co, as I have found a nicer place to do business, for over 40% less £per square foot, which is just down the road, beautifully mould free, and big enough for a bar.

So yeah, leaving the Arch sucks, it has been the home Latitude 16 years. What we have built and achieved here has been special. The circumstances of leaving here are rotten (literally). However, the future is bright, roomy, dry, and warm. I cannot wait for you to come and join us for a drink at 46 The Calls.

 Chris Hill


* The Arch Co are a company established in 2018, a partnership between 2 property companies, Blackstone and Telereal Trillium. Blackstone is the world's largest alternative investment private equity fund, criticised by the UN for contributing to the global housing crisis. Telereal Trillium are a company that has been hastily hoovering up management contracts for public buildings in the UK, like former Post Office and the Department of Work and Pensions properties, all hastily privatised by Thatcher's disciples in the Tory Party. The Arch Co entered into a 150-year-old lease with Network Rail for £1.6 Billion. This means that the Arch Co get to raise all the invoices for rent for an estate of 4000 railway properties, with none of the responsibility for the actual structure of their property, because Network Rail still own the bricks!? This transaction was negotiated behind closed doors and was highly criticized by a Public Accounts Committee Report for failing to consider the plight of thousands of tenants, who were never asked if they wanted a new landlord. The deal promises the Arch Co upward only rental increases for evermore and demands that any new leases issued by the Arch Co must be explicitly deemed beyond the reach of the Landlords and Tenants Act, an Act specifically designed to protect the rights of tenants in the face of monopolistic landlords.