London is the crown jewel in the UK’s housing market. Property developers across the world know the eye-watering profits a prime piece of London real estate can deliver. Unsurprisingly, areas in both zone 1 and zone 2 of London are slowly but surely being primed for redevelopment. Shoreditch had it, Hackney’s having it, and Elephant & Castle looks set to be next on the ‘redevelopment’ hitlist.
Those who live in and around The Elephant will be familiar with its big roundabout, weird shopping mall, and its large community of Latin Americans. This is a central area of London that has been neglected by investment, both private and public, for a considerable amount of time. But when investment never arrives, it’s up to the locals to create a vibrant centre for their community.
Over the past two decades, Elephant & Castle has established itself as a prime location for foodies and dance music aficionados, but a regeneration project may destroy the organic vibrancy the area is now famous for.
Reviving an Elephant
News of the Mayor of London’s decision to greenlight the demolition of the shopping centre at the heart of Elephant & Castle means the area is edging closer to the point of no return. In place of the ‘60s retail relic, developer Delancey will build a new campus for the London College of Communication, 374 homes, 278 student units and a new shopping centre.
The proposed regen project has been in the pipeline for close to a decade, with the BBC reporting that Southwark council had agreed on terms with a developer in 2009, and the proposed demolition would take place in mid-2010. The demolition never happened, but neither was the project completely forgotten; a 2011 article from the BBC, again, said plans for the destruction were in place, and local councillor Fiona Colley was hopeful the agreement between the owners of the shopping centre and the developers would “accelerate the transformation of the shopping centre”.
Fast forward another seven years and the shopping centre is still standing. Speculation about the destruction is likely to have driven down renting costs for businesses, but a decade of speculation might finally be ending.
Do Locals Want Change?
While most living in the area would agree the shopping centre is something of an eyesore, many are hesitant to throw their support behind the redevelopment project. Rent prices would inevitably increase for both businesses and homes, pushing out locals and robbing the area of its strong cultural identity. And councillors agree; a vote in January from the Southwark planning committee was 4-3 in favour of blocking the developer’s plans.
Some have accused the developers of cashing in on the social credit of the London College of Communication to “get around its lack of compliance with their [Southwark Council] own social housing requirements”. Under Southwark’s guidelines, developments such as Delancey’s should include 17.5% social rented housing; the details of it and when the developer will deliver on this remain unclear.
A More Progressive Approach?
On the surface, the proposed plans for Elephant and Castle could easily be labelled gentrification; however, as with many of London’s redevelopment projects, there is a genuine need for improvements in the area. This is not, as Centre for Cities analyst Edward Clarke said, “a simple battle between plucky communities and greedy gentrifiers.”
The key to ensuring such a project effectively tackles the two major demands on the area (a need for more houses and a better-serviced central hub for business) is to make sure those already living and working in Elephant and Castle “enjoy the benefit from the changes.” That means making sure the people at the heart of the area’s recent revival are given the opportunity to deliver their service to a wider customer base, not to be pushed out in favour of regular rent-paying chain stores. It also means recognising that locals are the reason why the area is now attracting further attention – they deserve to be rewarded for the work the developer is all but guaranteed to profit from.
Development can and should work with locals to create an area that benefits both parties. Time will tell if Delancey delivers more than just profit.
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