Under-pressure businesses in Deptford's railway arches have been offered a three month rent free period to help them survive through the coronavirus crisis.

The Arch Company, which acquired Network Rail's arches for £1.5bn last year, announced that independent small businesses severely affected by COVID-19 will be eligible for relief.

Last month, News Shopper reported that business were facing crippling potential rent rises of up to 100%, as existing tenants negotiating new leases were offered significantly higher terms than they had previously.

The Arch Company’s Hardship Fund of £10 million pounds, which was announced on Wednesday, will be used to cover the cost of the three month rent free period for independent small businesses in the retail, hospitality, leisure and overseas travel sectors, as well as others severely affected.

Adam Dakin, Managing Director of The Arch Company, said: “Our tenants have been severely affected by the Coronavirus crisis, with many of them having to shut down completely for the next few weeks.

“The government has acted quickly and boldly to protect jobs, but there is still uncertainty about how small businesses that are not trading for the next few months are expected to cover other costs including rent. The uncertainty about what support will arrive and when, means that without our help now, many of our businesses simply won’t survive until that point.

“We have been closely assessing the situation, which is changing day by day, to ensure help is most effectively targeted to businesses that need it most. And we have listened to our tenants through hundreds of individual phone calls with them.

“The diverse mix of independent businesses that make up the arches have a special place in each local community, and it would be tragic to lose that because of the economic crisis created by Coronavirus. We want to help ensure that the dynamic SMEs that are the heart of the arches are still there at the end of the crisis.

“We continue to work with our tenants and other stakeholders as we keep this situation under review and assess what are the most effective next steps to support The Arch Company tenants.”