On Monday 15 January, students at the University of the Arts London, occupied part of the London College of Communications (LCC) campus in Southwark to protest their university’s complicity in the creeping social cleansing of Elephant and Castle.
The LCC has partnered up with tax-avoiding international property fund Delancey on a new so-called regeneration project in Elephant and Castle, which will see the demolition of the area’s much-loved shopping centre – bought out by Delancey earlier this year – to be replaced by luxury housing.
While Delancey will make £153m in profit from the project and the LCC will be gifted with a brand new campus, the 70 local businesses based in the shopping centre, most of them BME owned, have been given no guarantees of their future. Currently, there are no plans to relocate them over the course of the three year development period, while, the provision of affordable shop spaces available afterwards is paltry.
In place of the shopping centre, Delancey plan to build a swathe of luxury apartments, with only three percent of them fitting into the “affordable housing” bracket. Their plan goes to the vote at Southwark council on Tuesday evening. In response, a protest has been planned by community groups in the area at 4pm.
Southwark’s Labour council are notorious for their demolition of the Heygate estate between 2011-2014. They deemed the estate, home to over 1,200 families, an eyesore responsible for reducing the value of other properties in the community. By demolishing the Heygate, a whole community was dislocated, the transformation becoming part of a wider trend in which poorer residents are banished from central London neighbourhoods and replaced by wealthy incomers and buy-to-let investors.
Now, in the Heygate’s place, stands the grand and totally unaffordable Elephant Park development. The luxury housing was built in partnership with the infamous predatory developer Lendlease, who, with the council’s help, weaselled their way out of all the legal requirements to build affordable housing on the site.
If the shopping centre plan passes at the vote tomorrow, it will mark another nail in the coffin for the Elephant and Castle community. Yet another section of London will be reduced to the same bland, gentrified landscape of Prets, Starbucks, and ludicrously expensive plate glass high-rises.
There is no guarantee the council will stand up for the local community at the vote. Despite the community’s success in deselecting a number of councillors over the last few years, the council majority (backed up by local Tories and Lib Dems) is strong enough to push the vote through if they so choose. To make matters worse, the planning process in the UK leaves local groups with only three minutes to make their case in the council chamber.
In the face of this democratic deficit, UAL students have occupied the LCC premises. This is not only to protest the destruction of the area in which many of us live, but also to take a stand against the juggernaut of gentrification, which, over the last few years, has eaten up huge areas of the city, transforming previously vibrant communities into tower block stacks of gold bullion for the elite. As a result of partnerships like the LCC ‘s with Delancey, London is being made less and less liveable, particularly for the young, working class, and communities of colour.
The LCC may not realise the damage it is doing to our community and to its own reputation in this destructive partnership, but we do. We demand a halt to this plan before even more of Elephant and Castle is destroyed. Up the Elephant! Down with social cleansing!