FILLING YOU IN! Local resistance to Southwark Council infill development on estates

What follows is another two parter blog post from us lot. The first part looks at the fairly recent upsurge of local estate campaigns critical of Southwark Council’s plan to infill new council homes on estate’s green spaces or estate’s amenity sites. What’s going on is chock full of contradictions and we try to unpack these in a critical and hopefully practical useful way for existing campaigns and future ones. The second part looks into the hopeless way the Council tries to ‘consult’ on these plans and why campaigns are determined to actually have a real say on what goes on in their estates. We also begin to look at how such determination to not lose green space or amenities are being falsely labelled as ‘Nimbyism’ by both the Council and by the strange cult of the emerging Yimby (Yes In My Backyard) movement.

1: WHY DO WE SAY ‘YES TO FAIR REDEVELOPMENT’?

After our long involvement in the large campaigns around the demolition of Heygate and Aylesbury Estates and the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, we are now more loosely involved once again in a new round of housing campaigns in Southwark. We previously wrote a long summary of what we called The Dismal Decade in Southwark where we looked in depth at Southwark’s disastrous housing and planning policies over the last ten years. In many ways, infill on estates is a direct legacy of that godawful period of estate demolition, privatisation of land and council housing and oodles and oodles of pro-private development and unaffordable new builds in North Southwark. Although we hoped a change of leadership of Southwark Council in 2020 might herald a different way of going about things, this has quite quickly been seen to not be the case at all. It was ever thus and so we find ourselves again in great company continuing the endless work of struggle!

The one big change we now find ourselves in is the dreadful position of having to defend some estate green spaces and amenity sites like garages, play areas, sports areas but this time around we are defending some of these sites from new council homes being built on top of them. In one instance, infill plans include demolition of people’s long term homes to satisfy the plans for new council homes!

As we have said many times we support the Council’s intention to build 11,000 new council homes in the borough by 2043. It’s also clear that tenants and residents on estates also support new council homes but not at the cost of loss of amenities, overshadowing, demolition and so on. Everyone involved is aware of the contradiction at the heart of Southwark plans and nothing is undertaken lightly as if we all didn’t have a care in the wind for those needing secure and safe council homes. We will look at this contradiction in detail a bit later on.

So where are we at in August 2021?

So, it’s been a busy last few months as what needed to happen has finally happened where different estates campaigns have talked to each other and made common cause. This has been the hard work of local tenants and residents creating local estate campaigns, Southwark Defend Council Housing, a bit from Southwark Extinction Rebellion, a bit of us and a good handful of supporting individuals who give a shit. None of this comes out of thin air and those networks have been built over the last 20 or more so years. That’s when long term community work pays off!

It useful to make clear right at the start that there are already new council homes going up across the borough as part of the 11,000 new homes scheme. Yesterday, for example, we passed new council homes being built on Commercial Way in Peckham (109 homes – 74 council and 35 ‘affordable’) and then on Sedgmoor Place in Camberwell (13 homes). Commercial Way site was a vacant lot and the Sedgmoor Place site was a small unit of temporary accommodation. New council homes for people who need them and nothing taken away or harmful to local estates.

But other Council plans are not so free and easy. There are numerous plans to use infill development on estates such as the tiny Kingston Estate in Walworth to the larger Bells Gardens in Peckham. But it’s not just estates and infill. There are also plans to build on a large bit of open green space adjacent to Jocelyn St in Peckham that has raised the ire of campaigners too. Alongside these infill plans, there are big excitable noises being made in Southwark Council in support of Roof Top Development (RTD) where new homes are built on existing council housing blocks. Unsurprisingly, this has not been welcomed with open arms by those on intended RTD sites! Infill and RTD sites are extensive through Southwark. A recent Southwark News article did a great service of mapping all the sites for Southwark’s new council homes programme as well as looking at the oppostion on some of these sites.

Last year, we went down to Priory Court Estate in Peckham to talk to campaigners there opposing infill on their small green triangle of land, garages and TRA Hall. People there had a lot of different ideas about what was possible – no infill, some infill, infil on garages but not the green space etc. In the end, the Council back down and Priory Court won that campaign. Brenchley Gardens in Honor Oak had also got the Council to back down on plans there for building on estate green space. They wrote: ‘“Brenchley Gardens is a small estate of 95 flats and houses made of 50/50 social housing residents and leaseholders. We run the estate ourselves and take great pride in the community that thrives here. The proposed infill would have seen our beloved garden gone – where we grow fruit/veg, meet for picnics & BBQs, and host social events for the resident community. It has been a saving grace in lockdown and we’re so happy that the council have revoked the plans to build here. However, we are still fighting the proposed rooftop builds on top of our 4 blocks of flats. More than 70% of Brenchley residents have signed our petition against the build’. Both of these campaigns laid some of the groundwork for what is possible.

Southwark Extinction Rebellion June 6th – well good!

For us, it was only the excellent June 6th Southwark Extinction Rebellion bike ride to different proposed development sites that finally reeled us in to helping out where we could. A small bike cavalcade visited Kingston Estate, Bells Gardens, Jocelyn St /Peckham Green, Benchley Gardens and Green Dale Playing Fields in Dulwich. It was great to meet locals who were just not happy with the plans, listen to their woes and ideas and to feel that a joined up conversation was really getting going. By July, from both the long term relationships between housing campaigners and from the new ones being forged, the coalition Yes To Fair Redevelopment was formed. Some time was spent writing a frame work for campaigns to work from and from this work YRF ended up with an agreed series of 8 demands to Southwark Council:

1: Value council tenants and residents, our homes and our environments

2: Yes to Fair Redevelopment. We want more council homes

3: Genuine tenant and resident involvement – no more fake consultations

4: Protect and improve community facilities

5: Stop unsafe developments

6. Employ direct labour – give workers the power to challenge unsafe building work

7. Act on the Climate Emergency now

8: Stop the demolitions and sell-offs

With no delay, July 14th saw Yes To Fair Redevelopment hold a demonstration outside Southwark’s Tooley St HQ in support of the demands and also to accompany delegations to the Council Assembly meeting from Bells Gardens and Dodson & Amigo Estate in Blackfriars. There were great speeches from Janine from Bells Gardens, Jacquie from Dodson & Amigo, Lewis from Save Peckham Green and Tanya from Southwark DCH who told the crowd we won’t be taking any lessons from Southwark on housing and planning seeing as campaigns have been having to hold the council to account for 20 years or more.

Yes To Fair Redevelopment has also been proactive in leafleting all through August in an attempt to reach out, widen the conversation and make sure tenants and residents on affected estates are part of the decision making process. Their leaflet encourages estates to join the campaign and promotes a protest at Council HQ on Tooley St on Sept 7th. Although each campaign is different, with different issues and different voices and opinions being voiced, this is exactly the kind of strong and well connected local campaign Southwark has needed for years. Working class people having a real and actual say on their estates and thus their lives. The campaign is open to all and everybody who is living on an estate where infill or RTD is planned. It’s also keen to open a space for solidarity from other supporting local groups and campaigners.

Infill, Green Spaces, Roof Top Development and Demolition: Some local examples

GREEN SPACES:

Bells Gardens estate in Peckham is a big place with multiple low-rise blocks containing 545 homes designed around a central series of green spaces and mature trees. There is also a multi-use games area (MUGA) and a playground in the central zone. Southwark’s infill plans for three new blocks will see ‘green space reduced by 40% per household; a new sports area less than half size of original and a nine story block mostly for private sale’. Residents are opposed to using public land to site private homes on the estate as well as loss of their 30+ mature trees on site.

Bells Gardens Estate in Peckham

Campaigns are right when they say that estate amenities are not extra to council housing, they are made to such green and open spaces are designed in by the architects and planners to enhance community cohesion and to provide a sense of well-being from having a very local common space for use or visual relief from dense streets. These green spaces within estates give young children a place to play as well as being places where young people can investigate nature whilst staying very close to home. For example, on inner-city children, the 1998 research paper ‘Growing Up in the Inner City: Green Spaces as Places to Grow’ says of housing estates and greenery, that outdoor spaces close to buildings are used more widely by children resident in those buildings than local parks or playgrounds. This emphasizes that children use, and are often restricted to, spaces very close to where they live. There are literally dozens of studies that show this. Also important is how loss of green spaces affect those already existing in the most poor environments. CABE Space commissioned research, the largest study of its kind in England in 2010, to investigate the inter-relationship between urban green space, inequality, ethnicity, health and wellbeing found that in areas where residents are almost entirely white, there is 11 times more green space than areas where more than 40% of residents are Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME). It’s certainly not difficult to see that disparity in Southwark.

Amenities such as ball courts or playgrounds provide a chance for sport and socialising at a time of the users choosing (inside opening hours). The importance of open and green spaces for community and individual well-being has been emphasized repeatedly over the last two decades by both local councils including Southwark, sports bodies, in academic and institutional reports and even the World Heath Organisation (Urban green spaces and health Report, 2016). A 2018 report by environmental group Friends of the Earth stated that Southwark is among the worst parts of the UK for easy access to green space. The survey rates local authorities for the amount of green space within five minutes’ walk for residents. E rated neighbourhoods are those most deprived of green space, including gardens and parks. Southwark is rated E!

Southwark’s Core Strategy from 2011 states that ‘Southwark open spaces are very important for many reasons. They help make communities healthier by providing space for and encouraging physical activity and relaxing and provide quiet areas. This includes providing space for playing pitches and children’s play. They break up built-up areas and add to the character of places. They are a focus for community gatherings and events. They help control flooding and keep built-up areas cool. They provide habitat and access to nature and space for growing locally produced food. …smaller spaces are particularly important to local people’. Can’t really see that these rationales have changed now that the council want to build on green spaces. Local campaigns against infill on estate green spaces are only saying what the Council has said and in many ways still says in its current Open Spaces policy. The campaign to save the large Peckham Green from being built over consistently has the Council denying that it’s an official open green space. Literally, it’s the wrong kind of green space and so, despite it providing everything the Council states above, it can be destroyed. Dozens of online interviews with locals and passersby at Peckham Green conducted by the campaign all show that no-one had any idea of the plans and no-one wants to lose the green space.

Campaigners gather for the Southwark XR Bike Ride to different infill campaign sites

SPORTS AND PLAY AMENITIES:

On Elim Estate on Long Lane in Bermondsey, Leathermarket JMB has submitted plans for 32 new homes. As part of this infill they want to build on what they say is an under-used ball court and play area. Elim residents have been campaigning against this for months. Once again tenants and residents are not opposed to new council homes but are against a loss of estate resources for young people as well as green space on the estate. In June 2021, the campaign managed to get the Council to push back the planning decision until September. Here, as at numerous other sites, the campaigners say they have not been listened to but also that there has been possible untoward behaviour from Leathermarket with ‘the creation of a hit list of residents so desperate to be rehoused that they could be persuaded to leave favourable comments in support of the Leathermarket planning application’. In a really wild turn of events, in early June, 4 cops turned up at a prominent Elim campaigner’s house and arrested them for ‘hacking’ documents from an alleged secure area of Leathermarket’s website. In fact the documents were all publicly accessible via a Google search. After 5 hours of questioning and keeping the campaigners phone and computer for a month, the cops said there was zero case of hacking to answer for. It’s worrying that Leathermarket would go to such lengths of intimidation against a simple tenants and residents campaign fighting for their own amenities!

Green space infill site on Lomond Grove, Camberwell

Lomond Grove is a street that runs past the various blocks of the large Elmington Estate in Camberwell. By Brisbane House, there is a small walled in site of multiple mature trees with a large canopy of leaves. Originally tenants had access to this site and children would use it as a play and discovery space. Council locked up the site and now speak of it as vacant and unused! Southwark is proposing a new development of 22 council homes. Campaigns are not only concerned about the effect of new homes on their estate but on the environmental folly of removing such natural sites in a time of climate emergency. Southwark Council itself recognised such a ‘Climate Emergency’ in March 2019. Local folks have pointed out that there is sufficient space in front of the green space to build a smaller block of 15 new council homes that wouldn’t need to see the trees cut down. There is also enough Council-owned space for more new homes nearby between the new-ish Camberwell Library and the Magistrates Court which is earmarked for private development. The Magistrates Court developers are keen to get Southwark to flog off some of the pavement to enable a bigger development project. Council should reject this to enable this site as a potential place for new council homes.

Council sign announcing proposals for the green space and trees behind at Lomond Grove, Camberwell

ROOFTOP DEVELOPMENT

Roof Top development is somewhat of a new fangled idea. A bit like all those posh basements rich people are digging under their buildings but in reverse. Called Airspace development, it’s literally premised on having no space build on other than up. There is already a trade body representing for companies who see in Airspace development rich pickings. The Association of Rooftop & Airspace Development (ARAD) was set up as ‘a collaboration between four of the UK’s leading Airspace developers who have come together to promote this new and innovative asset class’. Yeah that’s ‘asset class’, not homes. So far, the main RTD project in Southwark has been working with Housing Association’s to provide a mix of market sale homes that cross-subsidise the development of ‘affordable’ housing. That old cross-subsidy chestnut plus generous funding from the GLA! Apex Airspace, one of the four ARAD members, has built on top of Roderick House and Antony House in Bermondsey, these homes a part of Lambeth & Southwark Housing Association property portfolio. The new Roof Top Homes will provide 30 homes – 24 ‘Affordable Rent’ but only 6 at genuinely affordable Social Rent. Residents have described the construction works going on around and on top of them as ‘a living hell’!

Although this seems like an innovative solution to lack of sites to build new council homes, tenants and residents where such schemes are mooted are concerned that any RTD is too new to be considered a safe and sound bet for plonking down on their estate roofs. Campaigners at Lancaster Estate in Blackfriars have been arguing that RTD is ‘an ill-conceived project…is dangerous, puts our lives and homes at risk, construction would be extremely disruptive and invasive, and would be very expensive. In its essence, the Arup report deems your rooftop homes scheme risky and too costly’. The Arup reference is to a survey conducted by Arup surveyors in August 2020, regarding the rooftop expansion on nine estates around Southwark. The Arup report stated that there was the danger and increased risk of disproportionate collapse in pre-1970 buildings if a single storey was to be added on top. Arup also outlined the very high cost of the project and economic inefficiency: a single storey rooftop extension could cost the council as much as building new three storey block of flats from scratch. Arup also said that rooftop expansion would require significant strengthening of the existing structure, meaning intrusive, invasive and disruptive period for residents during construction. Yet Arup’s report was still used as a basis for a council written report In December 2020 to obtain permission from the Cabinet Member for Housing for continuation of the RTD idea. Fudging the initial concerns Arup reported, this Council report states ‘a Structural Survey has been carried out by ARUPS which sets out the functional principles to which massing assumption have been applied, this low risk approach provides a baseline from which we can extend’. Even though the rationale for RTD makes a kind of sense, you can see why tenants and residents of estates earmarked for potential RTD are extremely nervous and distrusting of the Council.

Chevron Apartments, St James Rd in Bermondsey, plan for four extra storeys

Incidentally, an example of Southwark planning permissions and private RTD: In 2016 the industrial three-storey building ‘Universal House’ at 294 St James Rd in Bermondsey was converted into 34 residential apartments and renamed ‘Chevron Apartments’. A two bed flat will cost you around £660,000. In 2018 airspace developers Skyroom bought the freehold of the site enabling them to build up. In late 2020, Skyroom gained planning permission from Southwark to build 15 new homes over 4 extra rooftop stories even though the development falls short of the Southwark’s housing policy requirements by having too many 1 bedroom flats. Four of the new homes will be classed as ‘affordable’ London Living Rent. 2020 Stats for London Living Rent prices in the Old Kent Road ward are £827 per month for a 1 bed flat, £944 for 2 bed flat. Of course, the site is well within the infamous Old Kent Rd Opportunity Area designation for massive over development. Skyroom write how “One reason this project came to the fore ahead of others currently in works is the readiness of the leadership within Southwark Council to support airspace development. Particular thanks go to Councillor Leo Pollak who is pioneering the rooftop homes programme at Southwark”.

We also wonder if this will turn out to be just another gold rush locally as developers realize they can profit from airspace? In this instance, we wonder how those who already bought homes at Chevron House feel about having 4 extra stories built on top?

DEMOLITION FOR NEW HOMES?:

Little Dodson flats

At Dodson and Amigo Estate in Blackfriars, there stands what locals are calling ‘Little Dodson’ at 49-56 Dodson Street. It’s a small unit of 8 small council homes. Southwark has chosen Little Dodson, green space and some garages as the site for about eleven new council homes. Already plagued with mice and a problem of dirty mains water, the 6 tenants and 1 leaseholder simply don’t want their homes demolished. They want proper maintenance! The Dodson & Amigo Independent Tenants Group sent a letter to Southwark in July 2021 stating that ‘We are the residents of Little Dodson. We are opposed to the demolition of our homes and the removal of our green space. We call on the council to immediately stop planning to demolish our homes. We are part of a community where we feel safe and supported and we do not want to move, temporarily or permanently. Instead we call on the Council to carry out necessary repairs on our homes’.

Elmington Estate and Peveril House: A Tale of Infill on Two Estates and Why?

By Masterman House on Elmington Estate in Camberwell there was an old raised garden space above a set of garages below. It wasn’t particularly well cared for with no active planting and gardening there and very few people used it. In 2013 it was earmarked for demolition and infill as part of the new Council homes initiative. No-one really objected as far as we know and the plans went ahead seeing 15 council homes and 9 private sale homes built by 2016. Apart from endless repairs and rebuilding that had to happen from the absolutely shoddy construction, in the end it seems like it turned out ok and new council homes were added to the existing council stock.

At Peveril House, near Tower Bridge Rd, there is a similar raised garden above garages. Peveril House is another block run by Leathermarket JMB although the land is owned by Southwark. Despite some small pots of Lottery and other funding for the gardens here and there, the gardens were similarly not abundantly used by tenants. Although it’s not up to us to decide how tenants want to see there estate features used, we did think this would be a perfect site for new council homes as its close to Great Dover street with plenty of space away from Peveril House tower block. However, the podium gardens and garages, as part of Southwark’s Great Estates Initiative, has now been split between a very nice and new fancy public gardens above and the former garage space given over to Forma Arts, an arts commissioning agency and production company. Forma will use the space as their headquarters and operate six rented artist studios, a café and ‘a dedicated on-site Community Engagement Curator and a resident-engaged arts and cultural programme’.

Forma, as an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation receives an annual grant of £250,000 as well as getting a further £100,000 from Arts Council England’s Small Capital Grants fund to set up it’s HQ and gardens. It also received £18,000 from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. There is no surprise lost that Southwark’s Great Estates Programme launched in 2018 intending to value and invest in estates is also premised on a massive contradiction embedded in its promise to ‘expand and enrich’ estates. The expand side is the infill and Roof Top Homes whilst the enrich is about valuing estate’s green spaces and local growing such as allotments and gardens exactly the kind of amenities that infill tends to reduce. But surely if you expand by adding density, you should also be expanding green space to make up for the increase in homes and people. Also as part of the ‘enrich’ side is the Council’s desire to find “new ways of working with residents to improve the look, feel and lived experience of our estates”. Clearly they need to listen harder as tenants are clearly saying how infill and loss of amenities and green space will impact on tenants day to day lives.

So, back at Peveril, what was once 100% tenants and resident spaces (park and garages) has now been part-privatised in favour of the arts sector with its traditionally poor engagement with local people. Speaking to some tenants from adjoining Tabard Estate, they said, the engagement locally had been very poor and also that they didn’t feel like the kind of thing that Forma was promising was really for the benefit of local people. One Tabard tenant told us “Forma arts invited themselves to one of our community days on the Tabard estate. They were keen to get estate residents to fill in questionnaires about their project, showing us a little model of the rooftop garden and saying how exciting it would be for us. But then that was that, no further engagement or involvement with the local community so we were wondering who is this project really for?

Councilor Helen Dennis said about Peveril Gardens that ‘huge investment is going into both the Elephant and Castle and Old Kent Road neighbourhoods to ensure that they can serve the needs of their communities for generations to come. The arts and creative sector will have a big role to play in this’. Call us naive but we fail to see how such arts organisation bring any benefits to local communities by taking off of them their amenities or by adding an arty frisson to areas that act as marketing for further gentrification. Want to hear something funny too? The garages and podium garden site at Peveril House were identified and listed by Southwark in July 2016 as a site of potential new council homes so what happened in the interim before the site was half given to Forma? Why is it always so blatant that self-involved middle class arty projects projects get valued, while everything else is sidelined and implicitely considered an extra luxury that poorer tenants can do without?

113 council homes demolished on Elmington Estate, 2016. Now Council wants to infill new Council homes!

What is also interesting then is if we compare the new regenerated Forma HQ and gardens with the old Elmington Estate podium gardens and recent ‘regenerations’ there. The effect of three rounds of estate ‘regeneration’ on Elmington saw the estate lose two TRA halls and green spaces in a ‘regeneration’ process where 346 council homes were demolished. In the final phase of ‘regeneration’ in 2016, 113 council homes were replaced by a mixture of shared ownership homes and social rented via Peabody and private flats. So tenants are now put in the position of either having to lose more green space and trees at Lomond Grove and having possible Roof Top Homes because the Council wants to build new council homes where they’ve just demolished a hundred or more! Long term residents says that the Elmington TRA has never recovered since losing Caspian St TRA Hall that was the social hub of the estate. It’s no wonder when such estate community cohesion is undermined that only a handful of people then show up to any Infill consultation. As we’ve said a million times, we have to ask ‘whose regeneration’? – who really benefits when what we see again and again is actual real material losses for estate communities. So when the Council talks about the housing crisis and 1000’s of people on their waiting list and with this local example of 113 council homes demolished, we have to say again that none of this has been caused by any tenant or resident of Elmington estate who may now be opposing loss of green spaces or being against Roof Top Homes!

2: Plans First, Consultation Second & The Church of YIMBY

Council Unable To Listen Properly – Nothing Changes

From our long and weary past experiences of listening and talking with those affected by Council planning changes, we hear the same thing time and time again from tenants. We hear how they don’t feel listened to. How they don’t trust council consultation. How they feel like consultation is often only about persuading local people to accept plans the Council has already decided it wants to go ahead with. How when the Council says “Have Your Say” it is not able to really do the medium term work of sitting with tenants as a group over months to hear what tenants actually think and develop with them sympathetic plans. How for tenants door knocking consultation is unaccountable to the wider collective tenants ideas and opinions. How online consultation does not tackle well the problem of the increasing digital divide between those who can access and understand online surveys and all those who cant. How consultation questions are loaded – ‘Do you think it’s important that we build new homes for people in need of housing?’ – when people obviously say Yes to this specific question, the Council then pretends people are saying Yes to infill or RTD plans! How the Council often misrepresents what support there is on estates for development and how this is often wildly at odds with what campaigns can see as a distinct lack of support through their own consultation and petitions. On Lancaster Estate the campaign reported that ‘We have a petition from all but 3 on our estate, overwhelmingly against the project, but in the literature and “Consultation”#2, they’re still claiming we support it”.

Councillor Martin Seaton refuses to accept Kingston Estate’s Petition against infill on their green and allotment space

It was interesting to read a December 2020 Council document called ‘Addition of Roof Top Home development opportunities to the New Homes Programme’ where close to a dozen estates earmarked for Roof Top Homes were reported on. In the document, where the RTD plans are outlined estate by estate, the same paragraph has been cut and pasted to report on supposed support for the plans on every featured estate: ‘There was an increasingly positive response toward the new homes once the nature and extent of improvements, in particular the wider block and estate benefits that would accompany this level of council investment, was explained to residents’.

YIMBY’s know best and go wild on social media!

In the mess of consultation and pressure from the Council on folks, the numerous Southwark campaigns and individuals have also suffered aggressive and locally ignorant attacks from some folks attached to Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) groups. YIMBY originates in the U.S and is best considered as a complicated pro-development movement in a variety of different, contradictory and often controversial flavours. The UK YIMBY ‘movement’ seems mostly to be about a blind faith in both developers and the big construction companies to build their way out of the crisis which they see as a lack of supply of new homes and not, as we and many others would put it, as a lack of new truly affordable homes. One thing YIMBY’s argue is that increasing housing supply brings down prices making lots of new homes affordable. We would argue that how the current housing market works centres scarcity* and high prices because developers won’t just build build and build because that means they begin to lose the high prices they can charge for new homes. When local house prices go up, and as people are forced to rent locally instead of buying, rents go up to as landlords know they can charge high rents in a crowded market.

If increasing housing supply will magically bring down house prices and local private rents why, after years of new developments in The Elephant, The Borough and Bermondsey, are house prices and rents still going up? GLA data for 2020 shows that a one bed flat in SE1 is £250 pounds a month higher than the London median of £1200 (Southwark median £1350). A three bed room flat for rent in SE1 is £850 higher than the London median of £1750 (Southwark median £2150). If tons of new development brings down rents and house prices then how come all of our non-council tenant friends have left Walworth unable to afford skyrocketing rents or house prices? Somehow it seems that far from prices and rents dropping, the drip drip effect of builders deciding how much they will build to sustain profits has the opposite effect. Weird no? It’s almost as if the capitalists know what they are doing?

We don’t have space to detail those tedious UK YIMBY’s we are talking about although it would make for interesting but grim reading. YIMBY people have connections to unaccountable right-wing thinks tanks keen to see planning even further deregulated but also some have connections to the Labour Party and local Labour Councils who have been pushing massive regeneration agenda that have squarely landed us in this mess after years of seeing our areas socially cleansed. Lots of good articles have been written criticising the US YIMBY movement. In the UK, we should be doing the same and countering their arguments if we think the YIMBY movement will grow.

YIMBY style: calling council tenants campaigners ‘social cancer’

Anyhow, what seems to be the main way of the YIMBY cult is to just be plain aggressive towards anyone who takes a different point of view. The premise of YIMBY is that they are the opposite of the NIMBY who says ‘Not In My Back Yard’ to anything new proposed. Historically people have opposed development for lots of reasons, some times from self-interest but not always. We think in the case of YIMBY attacks on local campaigns concerned about infill it’s a useless opposition to uphold. When people on estates defend their collective homes and green spaces and mistrust a Council with historically very little credibility on consultation, it’s not from some mean spirited hatred for change or a lack of sympathy for the lack of truly affordable homes. But we see over and over again YIMBYs guilt tripping tenants as not caring about those desperate for council homes by replying on our social media with photos of families in overcrowded homes or in temporary accommodation. We see the Council constantly replying to campaigns about how long their waiting list and so on. Yet we bet that everyone in the campaign has a son or daughter who needs a council home, or has plenty of experience of poverty, or has been part of local activism to defend council housing etc. YIMBYs blame us when we are the ones historically who have continually fought for council homes in Southwark for the last 30 years. But YIMBYs love to be ahistorical and go on about how we have to solve the current housing crisis NOW and refuse to look back at years of shit decisions from Southwark like estate demolitions, land sales, council home sales etc. that have landed us in this infill mess in the first place. For YIMBYs any opposition or objection to new buildings is just NIMBYism.

Another Yimboid happy to blame tenants for something not of their own making

So, once again for those at the back, no one is more aware of the horrible position Southwark has put tenants in when we have to fight to not lose our green spaces, TRA halls, garages etc. The blame game of the ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ to new council homes is just over simplified. We get the nuance and we get the difficulty of where to put new homes but we must be able to have a decision on what happens on our estates with out being cussed out by YIMBYS describing campaigners as ‘social cancer’. Remember in February when the campaigns caught out Southwark’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Leo Pollak when he was running an anonymous YIMBY Twitter account attacking Priory Court and Elim Ballcourt campaign. This is the kind of duplicity we put up with. Pollak, in this instance, just joins the many loud, aggressive, self-righteous YIMBY shouty men. It’s also worth pointing out that none of the YIMBY aggressors who attack campaigns online live on any Southwark estates or have the long term everyday knowledge and histories we have about our estates and decisions made by Southwark council. Our research shows that, in the main, they are are often employed in the development industry themselves or have a salaried professional life pushing YIMBY ideas. Quite different from locals here who call the council to account in whatever spare time they have. YIMBY really means Yes In Your Back Yard because actually none of the plans they aggressively push affect where they live at all. So one of the problems with YIMBY attacking campaigns in Southwark is it’s not their back yard they are talking about, it’s usually always someone else’s.

Southwark tenants have years of experience of dealing with people talking over them hence their current excellent mobilisation to make their voices heard. Again and it’s good to labour the point, this isn’t a movement against council housing or against new council homes being built. Pretending it’s some NIMBY personal greed thing is disingenuous from those who support any kind of development, the kind of thing that’s made London a massive site of housing as financial assets. We live in council homes and we know how much our lives are improved and, in the main, made somewhat easier by having secure stable and cheap housing. We do not take any of this lightly. But neither will we be blamed for the housing crisis entirely of others making, be that Southwark Council or any of the property developers promising social rented flats and then not building them. Until Southwark actually monitors these scoundrels and makes sure the social rented homes are delivered, stops selling off land and council homes, admits that it’s estate demolition programme has been a disaster and finally begins to listen to tenants, we won’t be taking any lessons from them.

Our final thought is that we also hope the newly formed Yes To Fair Redevelopment can grow and be the locally-based estate movement that we’ve always needed against continued gentrification of our neighbourhoods.

———————————-

Footnote:

* This is good: Housing supply, investment demand and money creation: A comment on the drivers of London’s housing crisis by N Gallent, D Durrant and N May (2017)

THE DISMAL DECADE – GOODBYE PETER JOHN O.B.E, J.C.B, LEADER OF SOUTHWARK COUNCIL

In September 2020, after a decade as Labour Leader of Southwark Council, Peter John O.B.E has decided to hang up his Council Leader hat. For Southwark Notes, a small collection of local Southwark people who have been actively writing and working against the worst excesses of ‘regeneration’, we have been trotting alongside his ten-year leadership journey. It’s been a long and weary ride and it’s kept us very busy. What follows is a long three-parter. We hope it suffices as a clear summary of everything we’ve been fighting against.

Firstly, we look at the last ten years of Southwark with close reference to planning and what’s been sold off, knocked down and then built up. Secondly, we try to describe Southwark Labour in power during that decade and concentrate on how we feel that their top-down style of governing abstracts or tries to bypass any actual day-to-day actual politics that communities have to engage in to defend themselves. Lastly, we look at their claims that they are ‘municipal socialists’ and what these claims could mean if it was in any way true.

Peter John looking at the material benefits that came to local people when the Heygate Estate was knocked down and replaced by expensive apartments


If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, here’s a summary: We add up numerous well-documented examples from the last decade of Southwark’s planning regime and conclude that this local recipe for a shit sandwich is complete. It’s a pretty damning record. A decade of the creation of literally a new Wild West gold rush for developers in North Southwark with a wasteland of luxury flats and another wasteland of overpriced and poor quality ‘shared ownership’ new builds across The Borough, Bermondsey, Bankside now reaching inwards to The Elephant, Walworth, Peckham and Old Kent Rd. Also, the struggle continues.


A DECADE LASTS A CENTURY WITH SOUTHWARK LABOUR

As the half-decent human beings that we are, we didn’t spend ten years pissing and mewling about Southwark Council just for the sake of it. The Council trumpets its free school meals programme, its new libraries, improvements to Burgess Park, free use of sports centres for residents and Southwark’s commitment to being a Living Wage employer. That all seems good and we support it. Somewhere down the line in about 2015 Southwark also came up with the idea of building 11,000 new council homes over the next twenty years or so. The Council’s demolition projects particularly at Heygate and Aylesbury Estate have already resulted in a net loss of council homes in the 1000s so it’s not a good starting point. Neither is the idea of asking or insisting that existing estates possibly lose facilities like sports courts or  TRA halls or  small open green spaces for infill development. With tons of development going for new richer residents of the Borough, we find it annoying that existing estates have to be the ones to give up their space and get blamed by Southwark as being NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard) in whose hands lay the resolving of a housing crisis not of their making. For better or worse, plans to build on top of council blocks are also being discussed. If it’s of any solace, the new-ish Southwark Great Estates Programme (2018) promises on any new estate developments ‘a net increase in social rent homes alongside increased density, to meet the acute need of families on our waiting list and a right to remain for all rehoused tenants and leaseholders, for keeping communities together‘. As ‘Regeneration’ Dept has now been re-named ‘Social Regeneration’ Dept, we are hoping the social now gets privileged over developers profits!

We also have some concerns too about the economic merit of buying newly completed homes off of developers rather than the Council finding ways to build them. So, as we have said before, we support this if it can work but the proof will be in the pudding and Southwark has continuously been baking some unaccountable shit puddings over the last ten years!

Advert from April 2020: Elephant Park one-bed flat for £785,000 built on the demolished Heygate Estate where a one-bed flat would have cost you approx £120 per week in social rent


So, if you’ve been a dedicated reader of this blog over the years then, you will know something of how Peter John’s decade of commitment to urban ‘regeneration’ in the North Southwark area has been a dismal ten years for Southwark. When Peter John took power in May 2010 he inherited the ‘regeneration’ plans for the Elephant & Castle from the LibDems. Wanting to look like he meant immediate business, one of the first things he did was to hastily sign a terrible deal with multinational property development firm Lend Lease to demolish the Heygate Estate. PJ said at the time ‘I’m delighted to be working with our partner, Lend Lease, to develop an area with so much potential, to the benefit of local people and for all Londoners‘. However, the real story of the mass displacement of tenants and residents has been told a million times by now and has gone down in the history books as a public housing scandal. There’s little redeeming in it for Peter John who, in response to high levels of criticism, repeatedly flip-flopped between various positions. First it was all about learning from the mistakes and saying he would never do that kind of Heygate regeneration again. Then it was about saying actually how well they had done getting tenants out of such terrible conditions as if the decant and re-housing of the tenants had been the Council’s priority all along. But if you look at Lend Lease’s expensive Elephant Park development that replaced the Heygate Estate, it’s clear that ‘regeneration’ was simply about moving mostly poor people out of the local area for no other reason than to enable richer folks to have homes on that Zone One land. It would be hard to think of many actual material benefits that the Elephant Park redevelopment scheme brought to the mostly thousands of poorer people who live at The Elephant. There is just no way a Labour council can claim this disaster as motivated by any sort of ‘municipal socialism’ even with its most piss weak ‘our hands are tied by Central government’ justifications. But more on that claim a bit later on. Yes, central government funding for local authorities has fallen by an estimated 50% in the last decade approx with very real knock on effects upon continuing rising levels of poverty, housing and job insecurity, but an increasing reliance on real estate deals to allegedly subsidise ‘benefits’ for locals can never tackle this at root.


Peter John squirms as he is wonderfully grilled out of his arse by Australian ABC TV’s Steve Cannane in October 2016 about the Heygate Estate scandal



Just down the Walworth Rd, a similar Council ‘regeneration’ scheme for the much larger Aylesbury Estate is currently underway. This time the Council made the seemingly better decision to partner up with housing associations. First with L&Q. Then with that ever-expanding and awful mega-housing association Notting Hill Genesis. The first phases have been similarly controversial with the same high levels of decant and displacement for tenants and long battles by leaseholders to not be poorly compensated for their homes. Along the way we’ve seen the same aggressive use of Compulsory Purchase Orders on leaseholders as first pioneered by Southwark on Heygate. We’ve seen endless spin about ‘benefits’ for locals and confusion about any right to return for tenants. We’ve seen ongoing under-investment and increasing shoddy maintenance of the existing housing stock.  We’ve seen the standard terribly shoddy new homes that housing association homes build as their ‘affordable housing’ commitment. We’ve seen that ‘affordable housing’ shared ownership schemes are overpriced and way above the income levels of most Southwark residents. But with the current ‘regeneration’ climate now being very uncertain and new Aylesbury plans seemingly being moved in a more positive direction, the new plan, in part, seems premised on Southwark buying new homes off of Notting Hill Genesis and using these as new council homes. This will probably make Notting Hill Genesis happy as they already have 610 unsold private sale properties across London right now. Would Notting Hill Genesis even go forward with Aylesbury plans without the Council plan to buy their homes? The deal could see Southwark spend £193 million to buy 280 homes for social housing with hopefully a quarter of this stumped up from a grant from the GLA. That would make a total of 581 replacement council homes on the Aylesbury first development site.

News reports from March 2020 also stated that new Council plans could see on Phase Two ‘859 homes in total, with 287 at social rent – and could be increased to around 1,250 with a grant from the Greater London Authority’. Hard to understand any of this in actual detail yet. So, we await further news and guarantees. At the end of the day, there should be no net loss in council housing on Aylebury Estate nor tenants displaced to other parts of the Borough just so expensive homes can be built in Walworth. In the meantime tenants and leaseholders waiting to be decanted and bought out continue to live in increasingly shoddy conditions, with heating and hot water services cutting out on a weekly basis and basic maintenance being neglected.

Up The Elephant Campaign, Latin Elephant and supporters mark the closure of the Elephant Shopping Centre, September 24th 2020


As we slowly write this, we’ve just seen the last day of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre. Once again, despite the promises of ‘regeneration’, we wonder what’s in it for local people when the Centre is demolished and replaced by close to 1000 new homes and a new London College of Communications campus. We’ve written extensively on the human cost of the closure of the Centre on local people here  and here. Although Up The Elephant campaign secured an increase from 33 to 116 social rented homes of the developers, we wonder if these promises will ever come true? We have so little trust in Southwark holding developers to account or that the developers will actually build what they were given planning permission for. These 116 social rent homes aren’t on the cards until Phase 2 of the plans, so that’s donkey’s years ahead. On the vital question of genuine affordable housing in the development plans and the relocation of traders from the Centre to other sites, North Walworth councillors have been dreadful, in the main. After the planning permission was passed by Southwark in July 2018, these councilors did send an open letter to Sadiq Khan criticising the Delancey plan and asking him to ‘insist on changes which can fix these significant moral and policy failings‘ and to ‘to pressure Delancey in delivering a better deal‘. Nothing happened from Khan, of course! We suggest it might have been better to send this letter to their own Council leader Peter John who had cheer-led the whole scheme describing the measly 33 social rent homes plans as ‘on-balance…good enough’. Subsequently, those same councillors, dropped out of sight at Up The Elephant campaign meetings and became either well-meaning but useless or just plain cavalier, unreliable and pompous. To its credit, the Council officers did step up to persistent trader and  campaign demands and opened up a set of garages as the new Elephant Arcade below Perronet House for displaced traders from the Centre. Despite some ongoing tensions over rent levels, lack of storage, small units etc, traders will have to see how it works out. In October this year, the Council responded well to Latin Elephant and 35% Campaign‘s call for new market pitches in The Elephant for the displaced traders who Delancey did not help get new sites. Good luck to all traders starting again in The Elephant at Perronet, the sadly ill-conceived Castle Sq pop-up shops and any new market spaces.



But, as was pointed out in July 2018 by no less than Rebecca Lury, North Walworth Labour Councillor and Deputy Leader of the Council at that time: ‘As municipal socialists we are glad the Council has come forward with a plan to support traders at Perronet House, but find little comfort in the use of public money to rectify the colossal failings of a massive private developer’. Southwark stumped up £200,000 public money to aid trader’s relocation. Again, although this support is much welcomed and came mostly from pressure from the community campaigns, these costs should all fall on Delancey. But then there was always something out of tune with Peter John and Delancey’s love song duet. Again, despite the serious and feisty Up The Elephant campaign piling the pressure on Delancey, the Council preferred to capitulate to the developers instead of using that very public strength of the campaign as leverage to actually secure real benefits for their constituents.

STRANGELY, THEY (PROBABLY) ACTUALLY BELIEVE IN WHAT THEY ARE DOING?

Ok. You’ve made it this far. Well done! Hold on to your hats as we are about to board the rollercoaster of reflection as we look back at some of what we think has made Southwark so awful over the last ten years.

As local people, working alongside the amazing groups like 35% Campaign, Latin Elephant and Up The Elephant, we’ve been digging in together to highlight again and again in detail how Southwark operates – highlighting how ‘consultation’ of local people is entirely bogus and works to deflect from their social concerns or how seemingly participatory ‘co-design’ processes still offer only the illusion of being listened to. A report by Social Life entitled  ‘Understanding Southwark Daily life and the impact of COVID-19 across the borough – First phase of area-based qualitative analysis: Key Findings’ (October 2020) interviewed numerous local Walworth and Elephant people and found that ‘Residents and traders reported low levels of voice and influence in local areas, the reasons for this varied. There is a widespread cynicism around consultation and the impact that local voices have on local decision-making, particularly among people with fewer resources (in time and money) and BAME groups. It was widely noted that opinions about new housing developments polarise feelings in all six areas‘). We’ve all been highlighting how developers use viability assessments to spin why they can only provide low levels of ‘affordable’ housing in their schemes and despite Southwark policies for 35% affordable housing for big developments the Council relentlessly passes non-compliant schemes. We’ve been banging our heads against a wall as Southwark again and again allows planning permissions they have granted to be flouted and social rented homes built and offered as the more expensive ‘affordable rent’. We been watching dozens of councillors and high ranking council officers leave the Council to take up employment with developers or planning consultants. We’re seeing the Council sell off asset after community asset – land, council homes, Town Halls, children’s homes, health and day centres.

 Government statistics show that Southwark has sold off over a thousand council homes  in the five years from 2010 to 2015. Source: 35% Campaign


Interviewed in May 2010, just before taking power in Southwark, PJ commented that ‘the first thing we’d do is not sell off our existing stock‘ yet the Council continues to auction off family-sized homes year after year to this present day. Although this policy was introduced by the previous LibDem/Tory regime in Southwark, the Labour Party in power reduced the previous over £400,000 value threshold for sale to over £300,000 value threshold for sale. Prize historical public assets like Camberwell Town Hall were also sold off in December 2014 to an offshore -based developer; Bermondsey Town Hall was sold off in December 2012 to developers and the make over of the fire-damaged Walworth Town Hall has been contracted out to private developers in 2019 despite two Council consultations were local people clearly stated they wanted the Council to keep the Town Hall as a real public asset.

Summer 2018 – Southwark Council agrees to sell off two plots of its own freehold land close to Old Kent Rd for developments


At the same time, the Council now complains about how land values are too high in the Borough and prevents them from purchasing and ‘re-municipalising’ land along Old Kent Rd for their new council home building programme. Leo Pollak, Council Cabinet Member for Housing writesin the midst of a land speculation frenzy—a Great South London land rush—our job as builder and as planning authority in maintaining the link between real-world housing needs and housing supply in our borough is made unnecessarily difficult…an unregulated market for land creates a ratchet effect that treats planning permissions and site allocations like any other kind of tradeable commodity, dissociated from the council’s imperative of meeting local housing needs, securing sums for social infrastructure and ensuring good growth’ *. This is literally the speculative development and land-banking gold rush landscape Southwark have been laying the ground of in the last ten years. We find it hard to make sense of what Southwark does in this respect. Right now, Southwark is busy buying up lots of parcels of over-valued land along Old Kent Rd and yet only two years ago it sold two large pieces of land it owned at Mandela Way and Devonshire Grove, off Old Kent Rd!

Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth regular meeting


On another tip of local people dogging the Council’s shonky decision making, the excellent group Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) have done dogged casework for people and securing them council housing against Southwark who were consistently gate-keeping applicants from applying. HASL also do top work on tackling overcrowding, temporary accommodation and Southwark’s terrible way of dealing with actual sentient living feeling humans being in distress. Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations have been great at highlighting how current Southwark plans to re-jig democracy and accountability to tenants are likely to result in less structures to try and have a voice on and say in Council plans.

This all adds up to what then? That the Council’s ideological commitments to ‘regeneration’ and rebalancing the social mix – otherwise know as social cleansing or gentrification – are what has made Peter John’s decade at Southwark the most famous. Whether that’s the terrible deal they made with Lend Lease for the Heygate or the disgusting cheerleading and outright brown nosing of offshore-based, tax-avoiding developer Delancey for the Elephant Shopping Centre scheme or the current disaster-to-be of the Southwark fuelled gold rush for developers along the Old Kent Rd, this is all just more long-term social cleansing in action. We’ve written about this a lot here.  Oh, and don’t even mention the massive Canada Water ‘regeneration’ plans at Surrey Quays!

But it’s not just us banging on about this. In 2016, Southwark Giving released a detailed report called ‘A Tale of Two Southwarks’. It was an independent research report into the needs of local communities in the borough of Southwark. From the title you can see that they were concerned about and highlighted the effects of so much private market housing in the borough. They wrote: ‘The difference between affluent and deprived areas is becoming more prominent in Southwark, with areas on or near the river and in the south becoming increasingly unaffordable whilst the areas in the middle of the borough are becoming more deprived…Redevelopments and new businesses attract higher-salary workers to some areas which lifts the local economy but leaves other areas stagnating. While average earnings in Southwark have risen with the influx of new industries, this has not benefitted all workers. Nearly one third of households in Southwark earn less than 60% of national median income after housing costs; this is the fifth largest proportion of households in inner London boroughs. 4,509 individuals received help from the Southwark Foodbank in 2013/14 (roughly 1.6% of the borough’s total population). Poverty is not the only decider of life chances and opportunities. Other issues can divide Southwark’s residents into ‘two cities’ based on: gender, age, ethnicity, income, housing, health, wellbeing, education, employment, and membership of a minority group’.

This mirrors everything all the local campaigns have been saying and actively fighting against for years – that Southwark’s planning and development policies consistently favour large developers and large developments that lead to further poverty, dispossession and displacement. Once again this is not rocket science. The effects are very clear if you live on the poor side of things as most of us do. You see the effects everyday.

Land value and speculation – how it works: Empty site Blackfriars rd & Stamford St. Land Securities bought most of the site in 2003 for £38 million. Israeli-backed Circleplane buy the site as £90 million in 2007. Malaysian-backed, Jersey-registered company Black Pearl in 2014 for £114 million. Hero Inc. Ltd, Staycity Ltd and BSW Land and Property Ltin 2019 for £235 million.


LUXURY POLITICS WITH EVERY LUXURY FLAT

Our face-to-face experiences of Peter John are thankfully few and far between. The ones we did have were indicative of the full range of his style and panache. Firstly, when we organised a silent visual protest inside the Council planning meeting that would pass the Masterplan for the demolition of the Heygate Estate in January 15th 2013, PJ was outraged by the community members holding up critical posters. Close to the end he snatched a poster out of one of our hands and put it on the floor and got all grumpy faced. Pretty funny.

 




Secondly, we witnessed the literal duet he performed at the Borough, Bankside and Walworth Community Council meeting on 9th January 2018 with Investment Director at Delancey Stafford Lancaster. Both of them sang the praises of the Delancey scheme to the high ceiling of St Peters Church. Stafford took on the verses whilst PJ did the well-worn choruses: ‘People don’t like the fact that a private developer is involved or that private money is going to have to pay for the redevelopment of the Centre and that they are a company with investors and shareholders and they allowed to make profit and that’s their business, that is the reality of their world and our world’.


Peter John croons ‘What Kind of Fool Am I?’ to Delancey’s Stafford Lancaster, 9th January 2018 at the Borough, Bankside and Walworth Community Council meeting.


But only a very chosen few get to join in the sing-song. What’s obvious from the decade of Peter John’s reign is how he always maintained the luxury of not answering any awkward questions from people who desperately needed answers and input into things that affected their lives, their survival. Meanwhile, he was selling Southwark cheap at a property trade fair in sunny Cannes in 2013 and promising as many luxury flats that the borough could cram in. Different shades of luxury, we suppose. No doubt he was telling the story over canapés of how they had decanted all the tenants on the Heygate to make way for such luxurious property development. With Cannes always on our mind, there was always the amusing spectacle of his official Gifts and Hospitalities logged at Southwark’s website. A £50 quid lunch here with Chris Horn, six years as Southwark Council project director of the £2bn Elephant & Castle regeneration before he launched his own ‘affordable’ housing development company Enter Homes. Or a nice dinner there at Pont de la Tour with Bell Pottinger Group. This dinner was handy as the restaurant was 5 minutes away from PJ’s then swanky apartment in posh The Circle development in Shad Thames. It was to be one of nine such meals with Bell Pottinger or Peter Bingle or latterly Terrapin Communications. Who they you might ask? Only the UK’s must dubious PR and Comms firm who were caught in 2011 boasting how it uses ‘dark arts’ to bury bad coverage and influence public opinion. Clients include multiple shady dictatorships, the arms industry, the fracking industry, the gambling industry, the tobacco industry etc. A strange repeat dinner company for a socialist Man of the People, like Peter John O.B.E.

The dinners with developers flowed like fine wine and developers built stuff in Southwark. Sure, as Leader of The Council, you expect a certain amount of meeting property developers but there are meetings and then there are meetings! We always presumed that Peter John actually had an office at Tooley St to meet people in but maybe he was forced to hot-desk at local restaurants. We love to quote the old Workers City line and we’ll do it again here:

‘When developers visited the City, the used to creep in at the side door, now the councillors bring them in the front door, one on each arm’. Not only had it become respectable for councillors to be seen with developers, it soon became imperative to be involved with them. Indeed, it got to the stage where councillors and developers became indistinguishable. The only real way they could be told apart was that the developer was always talking and the councillor was forever nodding his or her head’.
From ‘Glasgow’s Not For Sale’ by Brendan McLaughin (1990).



Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, and Lend Lease EMEA CEO Dan Labbad sign off the destruction of 1000+ Council homes on the Heygate Estate, 23rd July 2010 in Southwark’s Tooley St HQ. Smiles all round!


Of course, the fine dining and the quote points to how much of the Labour party has changed over the last 30 years. Peter John is pretty typical of many other London Labour council’s regimes and we’re thinking of Croydon (currently going bankrupt!), Lambeth, Lewisham – all Blairite-fuelled dynasties of reactionary PJ type-clones. Some of us Southwark Notes lot are former Labour voters and if we weren’t on a more radical tip and disbelieving that party politics will do anything for us all, we would still vote Labour because we were brought up to be Labour. That bringing up instilled in us some class-consciousness and had us believe that Labour was the party of the working person. But Peter John and others should have no illusions about what having a Labour mandate means in a massively solid working class area like Southwark. You could stand a turd with a red rosette stuck in it round here and it would be elected for the rosette and not the turd. Voting for a red rosette though doesn’t mean people then want to see a load of alienated posh people colonise their traditional stomping grounds. But it also doesn’t mean local people don’t want change or even regeneration. Of course, they do, if they’re actually centered at the heart of it.

SOUTHWARK’s SECOND CLASS POLITICS STRICTLY IN THE POST

‘…from this moment forward to think and speak the language of those who govern, no longer the language of those who are governed. They spoke in the name of the government (and as part of it), no longer in the name of the governed (and as part of them). And so of course they adopted a governing point of view on the world, disdainfully dismissing (and doing so with great discursive violence, a violence that was experienced as such by those at whom it was directed) the point of view of those being governed… The most that any of them would deign to do would be to replace the oppressed and dominated of yesterday—along with their struggles—with the “marginalized” of today—who were presumed to be of a passive nature. They could be considered as the silent potential recipients of the benefits of various technocratic measures that were intended to help the “poor” and the “victims” of “precarity” and of “disaffiliation.” All this was nothing other than a hypocritical and underhanded strategy meant to invalidate any approach to these problems that used terms such as oppression and struggle, or reproduction or transformation of social structures, or inertia and dynamism within class antagonisms’.

From ‘Returning to Reims’, Didier Eribon (2009)

It has been a long and ever bumpy ride for those who have been active for any number of years against what is called ‘regeneration’. Decades ago the Tories cut Central government allocations and Councils were forced into local competition with each other for funding. New Labour brought an emphasis on partnerships where developers, councils and local community all appear as ‘stakeholders’. In these so-called partnerships decision making power is weighted heavily on the side of developers first, compliant and desperate councils second and lastly for us locals where community involvement via ‘consultation’ is toothless. What actually takes preference with such a planning regime in force, is that social questions – what do working class communities need? – arrive last place to questions of economic growth and development. This has been summed up well by urban writer Guy Baeten in a 2009 piece about the regeneration of The South Bank in London. He says ‘Regeneration efforts, exclusively conducted through the institutionalised channels of partnerships and governmental grants, create a singular discourse about what regeneration should be about, and reduce any alternative regeneration view, expressed by whomever whenever, to sheer background noise’.

New Labour flagship Tony Blair declares that no-one will be left behind in 1997 but by 2020 the Aylesbury Estate was being demolished by Southwark Labour


Not only did Southwark Council join in the fan club for partnerships, they also dove head first into the mire of New Labour Blairite thinking on what we can term ‘the political’. Although there was a ‘New’ in ‘New Labour’, it also never really escaped the heavy top down mix of old-fashioned Right-wing Labour paternalism –  ‘we know best’. Classic 70s/80s Old Labour in Southwark ran as a kind of semi-benevolent mafia acting in the alleged interests of their working class constituents but always from on high and never asking what people needed or wanted. But the New Labour thinking continued this paternalism but with the class politics removed because they believed that politics as politics was over. New Labour ideas and policies actually remove the political from local government and local community demands. By the political, we simply mean the cut and thrust of community demands to local government to defend what they have – council homes, youth clubs, open spaces, local shops, nurseries, estate repairs, TRA funding and maintaining some kind of power in actual decision making or demanding it through protest and sometimes occupations. For New Labour, that kind of day-in, day-out community-activated fuss, dissent and righteousness became seen as something in the way of them just making decisions that affect people’s lives and survival. No longer were community voices and channels seen by the Council as a part of a wider Labour movement but they became to be seen as something negative and thus could be written off through the disingenuous stroke of saying that these local voices were not representative, responsible or ‘positive’. Community members saying ‘No’ to things were viewed as illegitimate because Southwark wanted to move forward in partnerships with developers and the community should be happy with what was promised from that unholy alliance. What’s worse is that dissenting voices are then portrayed as politically motivated which, of course, they are. Politics is the public moment of fighting for your best communal interests! But for Southwark being ‘invited’ to the table is more about some kind of powerless ‘Community Conversation’, as they termed it at one point. In all reality locals are just being ‘included’ to tick a box of community involvement and not to listen to their actual political beliefs. It’s just an illusion, a bureaucratic acknowledgment of presence but not your arguments. These new leaders in the Labour Party don’t believe in helping to build confidence, self-belief, identity and personal growth in people so that they can be active on their own behalf. All of these things are what parts of the socialist movements have tried to do over time. The anarchist planner and writer Colin Ward wrote in the 70s about ‘a tendency towards bureaucratic paternalism and alienation in public landlordism, which he believed treats tenants like ‘inert objects’ rather than active subjects….housing was done to and for people rather than by them’ (**). Many Southwark council
tenants would know the feeling. We certainly do!


Aylesbury Estate tenants protest at continued breakdown of hot water and heating, February 2019



But despite this attempt in Southwark for the Council to inhabit and operate in what has been called the ‘post-political’, there has been an enormously feisty and determined coalition of people fighting the worst aspects of Peter John’s Labour ‘regeneration’ regime. At Southwark Notes we’ve long recognised and mapped out how such a post-politics might attack at the roots and legitimacy of community organising and campaigning and we didn’t step into that swamp by trying to be nice and cuddly. We long recognise that politics is necessarily antagonistic to power and that you won’t get very far trying to sit at the same table of power. We would rather stand on top of the table and say ‘No!’ or be lurking underneath sawing its damn legs off.

Needless to say, Peter John was always ready to denounce us and others as ‘keyboard warriors’, as people entirely unrepresentative of what local people wanted or as outsiders and so on. For sure, we aren’t deluded enough to think that we stand for what all local people think but in those ten years we’ve certainly found a massive resonance locally for what we say and do. But Peter John is the perfect ‘post-political’ operator. He plays that patronising role of ‘the adult in the room’ perfectly. Nothing radical or experimental or challenging can be allowed in. It’s the politics of pragmatism, of paternalism, of ‘we know best’. Rather than forging a shared politics of resistance to challenge the economic logic that privileges real estate as an alleged driver of people’s well being, he holds tightly on to a ‘politics of the possible’. Yet without some kind of radical vision, what is possible is only to open up Southwark more and more to the violent actions of development under the guise of ‘progress’. For people like us who believe in something a bit more, something maybe a bit more impossible, he relies on the luxury he has to close down any arguments by having a final word then retreating to silence.

For example, despite one of us at the time actually living on Heygate in its final years. Despite us working with 35% Campaign who were organising with Heygate residents and families yet to be decanted and despite us actually originating the now famous Heygate Displacement maps that showed how many tenants and leaseholders had been forced out of the area. Despite all this, Peter John could still publicly assert that when he became Council leader in 2010 ‘there were six families still living on the Heygate. I met each of them and ensured their needs were met’. There is a well-known non-post-political phrase and saying you could apply to this statement– Patently Bollocks. A good time to recall here then his one time awesome rebuff to someone who was questioning PJ. He replied that the reason he knew what he was saying was correct was, quote, ‘Facts!’.


Peter John demolishing all critics in his ‘Facts’ JCB


Or, do you remember when we leaked the secret Southwark and developer Lend Lease regeneration agreement to the press and when this was later featured in a withering rebuttal of all of Southwark’s Heygate spin by respected Guardian journalist Olly Wainwright in June 2015, and Peter John publicly denounced the article as ‘#crap journalism’. End of story for Mr Peter John. Nothing had been done wrong. There was no scandal. It was just ‘crap’. As we have said above, when PJ was publicly called out on a lie by us and others, he hunkered down in his Tooley St bunker and discussion or debate was then taken off the cards. This is the perfect post-political manoeuvre. It attempts to maintain the narrative until the very point the narrative is shredded by campaigners, then to go silent and withdraw from any actual argument because campaigns are just being ‘political’.

Letter to Peter John was was publicly lying about Up The Elephant campaign pretending that the campaign was prventing new affordable homes being built when the Campaign had secured 116 socail rent homes against the Council-approved 33! (January 2019 and we are still waiting for a reply! *-)
 


For years now we have been calling Southwark’s frequent use of this tactic – ‘The Void’. We’ve written about it here at length. From our own perspective and ideas of community politics and organising, The Void makes things very hard for us. Despite years of hard campaigning, the simple fact remains that communities and community groups have just so little power to force change means that we have not been successful in defeating the rapid social cleansing at hand. In the realm of post-politics, where community campaigns are de-legitimated, we spent far too much time actually legitimating politicians and developers and recognising them as equals in some sort of polite liberal conversation where we often expect them to do better or to finally have an epiphany and do the right thing. But this will never happen. Ruling Labour politicians, who neither come from where we do economically and often culturally, are ideologically committed to a capitalist realist approach of there being no alternative to private market-led development.


The problem of normal ‘politics’, especially as we experience it in 2020, is that it appears totally legitimate even when it beggars belief as to what is going on. We are supposed to believe in politics, in Parliament, in the economy, in fictions of fiscal prudence and austerity and that we will need to tighten our belts some more as skinny as we actually are these days! Labour is complicit in this as much as Tories. We had some time for the Corbyn project even if, at best, it was only a limited social democratic possibility for tackling inequality in society and not any kind of actual socialism that would take on changes at a basic and deeper structural levels and roots. By this we mean dismantling profit, the free market, how we conceive of work AND everything else, that is, actual radical society-wide change. Not easy, of course, because you can see how much The Establishment will destroy anyone who even brings limited challenges to the deep structures of societal power and inequality. Right now, even though that moment is over, they are literally prepared to eternally salt any ground ever walked by Corbyn just in case the rest of ideas get any funny ideas again of changing things even at the most reformist level. In Southwark, that Corbyn moment produced a handful of actually Left councillors and push to take more power but the whole structure is the mess really. Party politics? We would say it’s irredeemable as a vehicle for the deep structural changes we need to make.

NO IRONY MUNICIPAL SOCIALISM

Back to the paternalism of Southwark Labour in power and that despite what we’ve outlined above, they still call themselves ‘socialists’. There’s little irony lost on us about how if you were to look at, for example, the Militant Labour council in Liverpool in the early 80’s, you would see the same top down ‘we know best’ attitude but from a totally different political perspective. In Liverpool, the Militant-led council worked from the position of ‘municipalism’, this being that the Council is what leads the defence and advancement of the city’s working class needs. They built a lot of council homes but they also attacked working-class people’s setting up of actually community-controlled housing co-ops because they saw them as undermining their municipal role as guardians of working class interests. Paternalism always!


Private homes built by big builder Bellway Homes replace 113 council flats demolished on Elmington Estate in Camberwell, 2018, and Government ‘Help To Buy’ scheme inflates the value of the new homes. In total 346 council homes lost in Three Phases of Elmington ‘regeneration’ (2005 – 2018)


In a May 2018 interview with Peter John on the SE1 website, we can read that ‘his party’s programme for the borough is rooted in “old-fashioned municipal socialism”’. We find this a somewhat bizarre claim for many reasons. Given that any high points of the varied UK histories of municipal socialism always involved a politics based squarely in working class interests, there would be very little to recognise in the last ten years of Southwark Labour that resembles what we take socialism to mean – the social ownership of production and distribution, democratic decision-making structures, participatory planning etc. Instead what we get is a bowing down to the free market to provide, purely as a legal concession, tons and tons of ‘affordable housing’ that everyone knows isn’t affordable. Peter John talks a lot about needing to help the ‘squeezed middle’ but can’t grasp that that granting planning permissions time and time again to big home builders doesn’t mean that more homes are available at affordable prices. All it means is that these new homes are just part of the increasing unaffordable and often Government-subsidised home ownership landscape. ‘Affordable housing’ such the ubiquitous ‘shared ownership just keeps house prices artificially high against continued depressed wages. This is not providing much relief to the squeezed middle, in fact, it’s just adding to their continued squeezing as big homebuilders profits go through the shoddily built roof. Peter John’s great statement in January 2018 that ‘in a housing crisis, you need to build houses’ is both naive and absurd. Allowing big developers like Taylor Wimpey, Barratts, Bellway etc to build new homes in great number will never be some magic rebuttal of the building industry’s tight control of what gets built. It’s a fallacy that lots of new homes drive the price of housing down. Peter, show us anywhere in the U.K where this is happening? Supply and demand is a free market myth. In the excellent new book ‘The Property Lobby’, Bob Colenutt nails it clearly when he says that studies ‘have shown that developers routinely drip-feed new housing units onto the market in order to keep up house prices…property investors need the housing crisis to continue in order to ensure the flow of profits into their business. The gulf between the world of property investment and the reality of tackling the housing crisis could not be wider‘.



Ten years of benefits for local poor people and the ‘squeezed middle’ as property prices rise 103% in ten years at The Elephant


For a ‘socialist’, PJ doesn’t understand the basics of capitalism very well! If they actually found some municipal socialist gumption they might actually play and inspire some kind of way forward for local government to contest the situation the Council finds itself forced into by central government. For their paternalistic sins, Left-wing councils like Liverpool and Lambeth and even Southwark did attempt to defy Tory cuts in the mid-80’s. But then current Southwark Labour are toothless fighters with no class position and so they oversee cuts and don’t fight. We aren’t suggesting this is all easy as pie but if you don’t try, you never find out. The Labour municipal socialists running Red Bermondsey in the 1920s unleashed a wild socialist programme based on well-understood needs and demands of locals. To do this they actually asked around in chapels, churches, settlements, parents unions, trade unions and so on what people wanted and acted accordingly. This wasn’t ‘consultation’. It was a dialogue. It was listening. It was building small socialisms in as much as it could. They also had to fight a Labour government who were keen for them not to expand a socialist alternative to landlords, ill health and so on!

1930’s Red Bermondsey when they weren’t afraid of being against capitalism


But instead of going down the road of conflict with the Tories, we get bullshit. Take the example of Southwark’s critical letter to the government about the ConDem government’s introduction of ‘Affordable Rent’, a tenure that allows for ‘affordable housing’ to be rented out at up to 80% of local private market rents. Despite their letter’s concerns, time and time again Southwark gave planning permissions to developments that included a few social rent homes, but when completed, the social rented units were switched at the completion stage by the developers to ‘Affordable Rent’ units. In 2016, the 35% Campaign referred Southwark to the local government Ombudsman about dozens of examples of this switch. The Ombudsman ruled that Council didn’t know how much social housing it was getting from developers.Despite some Council casework on this, it’s clear from the 35% Campaign’s continued work on this that there is still no actual decent system of checking up on what they had actually agreed to in their Section 106 agreements. Just for the lolz, that literal full bottle of clown sauce Councillor Martin Seaton recently remarked how ‘robust’ he will be as current Chair of the Planning Committee yet is still fine to act surprised that this is happening and then asks locals to point out where ‘affordable rent’ is delivered instead of the agreed ‘social rent’. 35% Campaign have been informing the Council of these switches for years! With a housing waiting list of many 1000s there is a desperate need for social rented homes in the borough. Letting developers switch tenure isn’t even defending the tiny gains you make as a planning authoritywhere via Section 106s you try to grab as much social rented housing as you can. Worth pointing out that a vital part of the expansion of municipalism globally has been to develop accountability for local people by opening up oversight of public office. 35% Campaign’s dogged research work does actual citizen’s scrutiny far better than anything Southwark would ever be willing to implement as ‘municipal socialists’.

Southwark Defend Council Housing protest outside the new Notting Hill Genesis Peckham Place development on  31st October 2020 where over-priced flats have not sold


The of the biggest questions we have for the Council is what happens when the Southwark model of ‘affordable housing’ provision, premised upon being financed by a cross-subsidy from developers who you allow to then build massive private home development, fails because the housing market is a mess or because planning is deregulated further by those in power taking away such planning gains? The Government ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper published in August 2020 signal plans for further deregulation, further privileging of developer’s needs, marginalisation of community groups and a call to replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 payments. So what supposed ‘municipal socialism’ are you left with when you are already a part of that privileging developers but less power, less assets, less land and less control of development in your borough. How is this municipalism? In the last decade Southwark has essentially overseen a massive transfer of public assets into private hands. Literally expanding private wealth at the cost of the public purse and the effects of these polices impacting most heavily on the most marginalised and dispossessed people in Southwark – women and Afro-Caribbean, African and Asian community members. The Council literally have zero understanding of the most basic ideas of how poverty is reinforced and how displacement occurs.


We have little doubt that Southwark’s ‘municipal socialism’ just sounded good in 2018 when they were bandying it around. Seems to be more a reference to older models rather than any of the new style attempts globally at actual citizen-led movements in local democracy. There has been no attempt by Southwark for the redistribution of power, community wealth building, new forms of democratic municipal and citizen ownership or ‘growing local, socially rich economies, with fair wages, cooperative ownership models, more local enterprise, unionisation, greater worker control, and genuine social value and environmental responsibility’***. That they were saying ‘municipal socialism’ at the same time as the Corbyn moment stinks even more as Peter John was never a fan of what actually might have been possible for the Labour movement (as such) if Corbyn had taken power. Even then we would still be facing both a hoovering up of social movements to bolster a Left-ish Labour party in power plus the fact that the Corbyn project would have had very little room to move to actually bring about any real structural change. Parliament might legislate but the power remains with the boss class. The rich and powerful don’t just give their money and power away. You have to take it off of them. Will party politicians ever lead that fight? You already know the answer.

 

WE MAY BE STUPID BUT WE ARE NOT THAT…ETC ETC

So, really, it would be silly of us to expect any radical socialist challenge to actual structural inequalities in Southwark’s new found liking for municipalism. Seems more likely to be more glibly inspired by the recent comeback of the term in the last few years even if places like Barcelona or Preston are actually, if messily, putting it into practice some slightly radical actions contesting the excesses of contemporary capitalism. The city governments in an informal global network that produced the ideas and policies in Fearless Cities model are worth examining and, for sure, we have been doing this quite closely. Once again though, we would take some time to look closely at these examples and warn, as many other social movements have, that if these Councils really do ground themselves in what they have learnt from actual grassroots street and city campaigns and movements, there is always the danger that these bottom up movements are then either politically de-clawed by participation with local government or are professionalised into weedy but salaried NGO-style bureaucrats. There are hints right now that Southwark wants to woo local groups and campaigns into supporting weedy petitions to ask the Tories to be nicer to local government and be nicer about excessive land values. There is also talk of Southwark establishing a Council-run Renters Union even though HASL already exist locally and despite the growing London Renters Union! Again, we aren’t critical for the sake of it. We just value the critical and practical autonomy built up in the informal community networks we have been a part of for a decade. For real we would work with any decent local councillors. We’ve just failed to find any, and it needs say loudly, it shouldn’t be like this!


Teach out and assembly, Love The Elephant – Hate Gentrification gathering, April 2019


It’s sad but true that the UK has always lacked the popular movements that we can find in Spain and other countries where local assemblies produce a very local participatory and active way of organising for better housing, against evictions and against rampant speculation in their neighbourhoods. The UK tradition is far more rooted in antiquated organising forms like big unions and local Labour parties. Sure there are good folks in both of these ‘movements’ but the form is always hierarchical and premised on pragmatism and compromise. These forms might have some energy for campaigning but they do not really give space and support for actually autonomously organised movements. We seriously think this is one of the key points all future organising has to look at – that despite long standing labour traditions, the working class have rarely broken with parliamentary party politics or, if they have they’ve then been inevitably stitched up out because the very function of both political parties and big unions is to maintain the social contract between workers and bosses and to keep the peace and let capitalism do its thing. Interestingly, the book Workers City that we quote above has an excellent short article that details a time and a place and a set of ideas where parts of the UK working class did begin to organise from below, against union and party hierarchies and, more critically, against Parliamentary politics and mere representation of their demands and needs.

Radicals have been saying for years that the main problem of municipal socialism is that it always ends up maintaining social peace, forging class conciliation, and thus diverting public attention away from the fundamental questions of the economic system as a whole.We agree with that 100%. Even if we might also prefer a reform or two, here and there, over more violence brought by government onto the head and hearts of working class people and even if we are happy to work with any kind of councilor who you hope might be any good but we’re still in more favour of the creation of groups and federations of working people, coming up with the own ideas and organising practices outside the control of politicians or professional campaigners.

Los Angeles Tenants Union, only five years old and already  built 13 union chapters across LA and still insisting on autonomy from NGO’s and political parties!


Endlessly, we would point people to the amazing principles and success of the Los Angeles Tenants Union since its setting up in 2015. Sadly, inspirations often come too late. We would have loved to have had the energy to set up at The Elephant something along these organising lines to add a spicy take to all the good work being done there by other campaigns. As Southwark Notes, we remain committed to relationship building with others, trying to spread confidence and energy, trying to build mutual support and cooperation, always sharing what we learned, always listening to what others have learned and publicly acknowledging mistakes we made. Of course we are well active against the current government rather than spending all our energies on Labour and letting the Tories off the hook. Imagine if the big unions and Labour were publicly calling workers out and organising nationally and locally en masse against the cuts, against the privitisation of public health, against evictions, redundancies…imagine that?  Sure, there are piecemeal struggles going on but the thinking is never joined up and never mobilised on the basis of our anger.

In passing, we still take inspiration the independent unions United Voices of the World (UVW), the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), the UK’s branches of the Industrial Workers of The World (IWW) and the Cleaners & Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU) and all of their direct action rank and file style organising. Exciting too is the current discussions in London Renters Union and ACORN branches about the scale and difficulties of a rent strike tactic over a rent reductions strategy as well as good tensions being explored around how a movement moves rather than functions as a service for members.  These are great dynamics at work and a sign that such politics are fresh and can win victories. We are also supportive of the slowly expanding Mutual Aid groups and Solidarity Funds network in South London (Rotherhithe, East Dulwich, Peckham, Deptford, Herne Hill etc).

 

STUCK IN A LIFT WITH PETER JOHN

Finally! There’s an infamous story Peter John tells about when he and MP Harriet Harman visited the Aylesbury Estate where allegedly they were in a lift and a man was injecting drugs into his penis. PJ says ‘That’s not a sign of a successful community. That’s not the kind of community we want to see’. Rather than understanding that a drug-injecting user is a human being struggling in life, he uses this individual’s story at that moment to denigrate an entire community. Such a lack of understanding betrays his political values – that instead of asking how a person is failed by society, he weaponises individual trauma to justify the Council demolition and ‘regeneration’ of The Aylesbury. How demolishing 2700 council homes remedies any of these common working class social problems, we don’t know!

Such reactionary narratives are well described by the writers Rob Imrie and Mike Raco: ‘Communities, then, are portrayed as a pathological underclass, entities that inculcate individuals with immoral values, but they are at the same time a source of moral good that is being corroded – something that needs to be rectified through regeneration’. PJ sees a moral failing rather than a failing by society, the same society however which he and other pro-regeneration folk are doing alright by.


Even after ten years though, we aren’t interested in blaming Peter John. We also aren’t interested in personalising this so much. He is what he is. Who cares that much who he is? A not particularly privileged individual who worked hard to become a civil law barrister specialising in ‘all aspects of Contentious Probate, Trusts & Property Litigation’. He made it to Southwark Council Leader for 10 years. A tetchy but bland figure, just one of many such figures in a decade of bland politics. But also none of that bland landscape is by accident but exactly because of people like Peter John. What we are concerned with is the legacy Peter John leaves across Southwark and one in which, for now, we presume will continue under the new leadership of Kieron Williams. How will the next decade be? Well that’s, as always, up to all of us.

At Southwark Notes, we aren’t so much socialists but probably something much worse! Whatever we are, we are working class and hold on to believing that societal change is in our hands if we want it. Class is a relationship and not a thing and, as such, class is continually made and remade over the years by us all. Regardless of our individual tastes and likes as working class people, it is our economic position, our class position, that is the key to deep structural societal change and a change that doesn’t just tinker at the edges. We understand also that our class position and politics can’t just stand alone though and that any class position endlessly intersects with the way we are viewed, categorised and policed by this hierarchical society because of our gender and race, from what part of the world we traveled from and where we put down roots, from what language we speak at home and which we speak outside, and the way our bodies and minds function, from the different cultures we are part of and the different knowledge’s we use and practice and the type of work we have to do and how that’s impacted by institutional conditions, prejudice and stigma. We have been wanting to write something for quite a while on these contemporary complexities of class and community in relation to our organising in Southwark and London and how we need to always understand the definition of working class as including all those different experiences and . We hope we can find the time in the near future.

We wrote to Peter John O.B.E, J.C.B in late December 2018: ‘Peter, as a self-confessed ‘socialist’ you might care to see the Elephant community campaigns for what they are: working class people defending their interests politically. Something like what E P Thompson describes as ‘the working class making itself as much as it is made’. Peter didn’t reply.

E P Thompson describes, in summary, the content of his great book ‘The Making of the English Working Class’ as follows: ‘This book has a clumsy title, but it is one which meets its purpose. Making, because it is a study in an active process, which owes as much to agency as to conditioning. The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at its own making…Class happens when some people, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other people whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs’.

Up The Elephant Campaign Public Meeting, 2018



As Southwark Notes, we’ve been proud to be a determined presence of that great collective making over the last ten years. We would also never accept on O.B.E! Just in case you were worrying about that!




REFERENCES:
* Quote from ‘Using land reform to drive a boom in municipal house building’ by Councillor Leo Pollak – Cabinet Member for Social Regeneration, Great Estates and New Council Homes, London Borough of Southwark in ‘Grounds for Change The case for land reform in modern England’. Shelter (June 2019)

** Quote from ‘Reconstructing Public Housing: Liverpool’s Hidden History of Collective Alternatives’ – Matthew Thompson (2020)

*** Taken from ‘New Municipalism in London’ report from Centre for Local Economic Strategies (April 2019)


Sadly none of these achievements are needed to be a useful Councillor!!


 

MONOPOLY MONEY TIMES DOWN THE OLD KENT RD

TL;DR: Fragments of Old Kent Rd histories / long rant on what’s planned for the area / job losses & luxury towers / We took photos of everything that will go

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• OLD KENT ROAD: WHAT A FEELING! CAN’T BELIEVE IT!!

Oh Old Kent Rd. Old Kent Rd. Damn! It’s just not a place you should fuck with. Of our manky generation, we heard of, or were at, the Dun Cow, the Frog & Nightgown, The Gin Palace, drinking with soul boys then later House and Garage heads. Wild Irish republican parties on Swanley House, Kinglake Estate in the early 90’s. Squatted parties at The Metro Club that’s now the Nigerian mosque or at the squatted terrace on Malt St demolished for the ASDA. Watching half-decent hippy band Ring at the Domville Grove Free Festival in probably ’85. The Ambulance Station squat in the old Fire Station opposite big Tescos was damn well good and lots of good indie band or experimental music gigs. Of course, squatting looms large in this history because of the amazingly organised work of the Squatters Network of Walworth offices at 362 Old Kent Rd. Later when they were reborn as Southwark Homeless Information Project at 612, there was the communal meal and meeting every Tuesday. Baked potatoes and baked beans once a week and planning squatters aid and advice. Spent time resisting evictions on Friary Estate Or Coopers Estate or Rockingham Estate. So many estates and there were just so many empty flats as the Council was shit at getting new tenants in. Usually squatters got along with tenants and worked together but some times they didn’t. No drama.

Old Kent Rd Development Map May 2019

Remembering too the haunted Thomas A Beckett pub and boxing gym above but never went there unlike Henry Cooper, Muhammad Ali and David Bowie oddly enough. Or see the Drive-In KFC or the huge inflatable Ronald McDonald atop the McD’s at 518 OKR in the early 90s. You can see the pumped up Ronald in Patrick Keiller’s totally top film London (1994). Or borrowing African music LP’s from North Peckham Library and taping them and finding a love there in those vibes. Remembering Carters Tool Hire or South London Pistons. We didn’t remember the model of the man who lifted his hat on Carters & Sons men’s outfitters and men’s hats. Way before our time but then just the other day we went past the famous London Chroming Company that’s still there. Just about. Or there was the beautiful concrete Clover Diaries sign at 201 Old Kent Rd now gone with the demolition. Or The Word Turned Upside Down pub and how happy that made us because the name signals the song and the awesome Christopher Hill book from 1972 full of Levellers and Ranters and Diggers from Civil War England 1649 and the books subtitle ‘Radical Ideas During the English Revolution’. Sweet!

BONAMY ESTATE estate 1991
Bonamy Estate, SE16 in 1991 – Now Demolished

 

Then there was the Old Kent Rd Gasworks and the famous gasometers and that amazing history of working people organising early trade unionism there around 1889. Or what about the crazy concrete flyover at the other end of the OK Rd? Or the massive Bricklayers Arms railway freight depot? We remember the night of January 17th 1991 when the first UK-backed bombs rained down on Baghdad live on the telly. We were out with a spraycan at 2am painting up on all the hoardings around as yet undeveloped sites. On the fence around the place that would become B+Q we let rip and sprayed ‘No War But The Class War’. The same on the old coach site at Verney Rd. That was us then living on the Bonamy Estate just off the Old Kent Rd in 1990, a site for sore eyes and petty badness. Tales that we can never tell. The estate was sinking into the ground. Half derelict by the time we lived there but it was a home. By 1992 we had moved on. Walworth. Switched gears. Absolutely brilliant. Here endeth one or two people’s version of OKR historical fragments. Yours will be probably be a whole different but just as varied…

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Bianca Rd / Glengall Rd / Latona Rd, SE15

 

• KNOCKED ‘EM DOWN ON THE OLD KENT RD

So much of what we described above had gone in, what you could call, the first wave of developer frenzy circa late 90’s to mid 2000’s. Demolition of all those great landmarks and oddities along the way as you rode the bus up to The Elephant. Those days were a bit more simple for the Old Kent Rd as it was still the most famous of the cheapest brown cards in Monopoly with a land value pegged forever at cheapo cheapo £60. It was a long and linear local working class neighbourhood with shops locals need and, you know what, it still is. Constantly changing but always affordable. Genuinely diverse in population, it’s incredible. Check out this recent piece by our fave food writer Jonathan Nunn on the rapidly emerging multi-ethnic ‘restaurant communities’and café businesses keeping it real along the top end of the Road. It’s a super piece and unafraid to talk political economy alongside plenty pho and boureks: ‘The communities on the Old Kent Road have fought existential threats for years rather than months — resisting gentrification, sustained immigration raids, an inhumane immigration policy that keeps restaurants struggling to find chefs, the ever-looming regeneration of the area, the greed of landlords pricing them out’.

But by the 2000’s with Southwark Council going for broke to rejig the area under the guise of ‘regeneration’ the area was ennobled with the title ‘An Opportunity Area’ aka The Kiss of Death. Read that sentence again as ‘Everything Must Go!’ and so it became Official. By 2010 there was the Old Kent Rd Area Action Plan that identified 36 potential sites of new housing all up and down the Road. By 2017 the plans had mushroomed, gone loco and become enormous. The new plans for the Old Kent Road now promised us local types 20,000 new homes and 5,000 new jobs. A lot of this was premised profit-wise on the development of two new Bakerloo line stations somewhere near Tescos and then one more at Asylum Rd. Property developers who had been wining and dining top Council bods in swanky brasseries for years were now trembling over dessert at the thought of all that money raining down on them. The only problems were that any promised ‘affordable’ housing would not be in any way ‘affordable’ and what to do with all those people who were actually still grafting here there and everywhere along the Road.

The incredible Vital OKR folks wrote the ‘Old Kent Road area is home to nearly 1,000 businesses that are integral to London’s dynamic economy. Here there is a vibrant civic life and a remarkable diversity of enterprise. This place is thriving, providing work for around 10,000 people. We want the miracle to be recognised, celebrated, embraced and nurtured’. Now ain’t that the truth. Anyone who lives close to the Old Kent Rd knows that the streets and industrial estates down the bottom end of the road are a traditional working landscape. What do you see? Well, business after business in light industrial units. People working. Things being made. Deliveries going out. These kind of areas ain’t pretty although in their own way they are! They are what they are though – places of employment vital to both workers and London as a site of industry and business. They are just-in-time services such as printers, logistics and couriers, studio space provides a home for burgeoning bespoke manufacture and arts and craft production plus light manufacturing spaces. Despite some paper thin reassurances that any new development would respect the 1000 businesses, it’s clear to see that the OKR plans are more about creating a ‘Central London’ housing zone of more of the same 1 or 2 bed luxury flats with some ‘affordable’ houses clustered round the new towers. Vital OKR’s research shows that ‘currently vacant and available land equates to only 1.25% of the Opportunity Area, where as existing economic uses account for over 30% of the current land use’. Vital OKR advocates a sensible policy of zero net loss of industrial land in the London Borough of Southwark.

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Old Kent Rd / Sandgate St / Ruby St, SE15

• MASSIVE PLANS FOR FUTURE SLUMS SIGNED OFF BY SOUTHWARK

As a clear indication of what is to come, we can point to the fate of a few particular development plans. Where as in the late 80’s the Council policy was to cluster big box chains in Retail Parks along the Road, with the new Gold Rush in the Wild West Old Kent Rd, those sites are now destined to become mostly housing despite those retail parks being actually super useful for local people who take the trip to Argos, B&Q, Currys etc. But no, says Southwark, they must be developed as housing with a sprinkling of commercial premises at the edges. At Southernwood Retail Park, the one by Tescos, the plans are for ‘a mixed-use development of 725 residential units, with a hotel, cinema, shops, restaurants and offices’. It’s a monster development completely out of character with the low level housing and shops around it. The plans for Malt Street near to Asda are even more enormous with ‘a mixed use development, including 1,300 homes and 7,000 sqm of commercial space’ being planned. There are many questions being asked by planners and architects and also local critics like us (and other campaigners!) about how actually socially useful and sustainable these high tower are. Lynne Sullivan from a Sustainable By Design write that ‘these towers are often privatised vertical cities that essentially operate as safety deposit boxes for foreign investment. Towers can’t replicate the vibrancy of public realm or the liveability of streets. They have more negatives than positives and there are better density models’. Large towers without massive infrastructure investment in reducing huge pulls on externally generated energy produce huge detrimental environmental effects. Frightening also is that life expectancy for new high towers ranges from 40 to 60 years only. Imagine knocking down a structurally sound pub built in 1888 to construct a new building with an estimated life of just half of the old pub’s existence.

For sure, no one is arguing here that London doesn’t need more housing but two things strike us:

1) See everything we ever wrote in the last ten years about how these development plans make big promises for local people re: ‘affordable’ housing or new social rented units or community gains and how these promises aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Already 35% Campaign are reporting that Berkeley Homes, the developer at Malt St, is making noises about reducing the ‘affordable’ housing percentage even though there are already serious concerns that promised social rented flats will be delivered as the more expensive ‘affordable rent’ tenure.

2) Again, as we’ve repeated to the point of brain fever, that once you bring in loads of expensive housing to an area the knock on effect is like a slow to medium tsunami of displacement. By this we mean that expensive housing raises local private and commercial rents and people and businesses are forced to move out. If we take Peckham as a case study, we can see that the arrival of the Overground was one of the reasons why private rents went ballistic and why new developments are arriving as if overnight. The arrival of the Bakerloo will be just the same at the OKR. We must also be vigilant about the fate of the Ledbury Estate right on OKR which was subject to rehousing of tenants as the towers were structurally compromised. Although after much pressure from Ledbury Estate Action Group, Southwark have promised to keep the blocks as council housing, with development pressure on and the massive land values of the Ledbury site, we should all hold Southwark to that promise.

Ledbury Estate August 2020

A response to the Council’s Old Kent Road Draft Area Action Plan by the awesome OKRPeople Network wrote We feel that overall the AAP does not adequately reflect the specificity of the Old Kent Road area. The Plan’s vision of the future is unimaginative and “cut-and-paste,” as evidenced by the claim that the OKR will become “increasingly part of central London.” The OKR is distinctive, and the aim of the AAP should be to enhance this distinctiveness. A thriving industrial base, genuinely affordable (social) housing, sustainable and diverse communities, migrant and ethnic businesses, a community-oriented cultural offer – these are the elements that make the OKR what it is, that make it attractive to the people who live and work here, and that give it a purpose in the wider London economy’.

They also point out that ‘the biggest housing need in Southwark is for genuinely affordable housing, which is to say social housing. According to the Council’s own assessment, 79% of Southwark’s housing need could only be met by social rented housing, and 21% by intermediate housing’. There is already a ton of intermediate housing in the borough as this is what has been making up a lot of developments commitments to ‘affordable’ house construction under the current planning regime policies. Importantly OKRPeople write that the ‘Area Action Plan should thus make social housing construction its priority, and yet there is no clear commitment to the number of social housing units that will be built, or to how they will be financed’. This is a top point as the corrupt state of ‘The Economy’, itself somewhat of a fiction or ‘vast hostage situation*’ that we’re supposed to believe in although it’s entirely out of our hands sadly, does mean that projections of construction and profits are now subject to a major panic in boardrooms across the World.

Will be interesting to see how global real estate markets fare locally as we go into the long expected major recession with mass unemployment and further rounds of austerity. But let’s not bank on this saving the OKR as the real truth is any financial crisis is that those who have the most still gain the most with bailouts and the shifting of their private debts into the public purse. Not only this scenario but the Government’s intended ripping up of current planning regulations in total favour of developers might make our current OKR Gold Rush look like a an afternoon out window shopping at Gerald Ratners!

To save time, the sturdy and committed 35% Campaign have written extensively here and here and here about the coming wave of luxury housing developments and all the intrigue and bullshit that goes with it. Your weekly reminder too that all of this pro-developer malarkey is happily waved through by your local Labour-run Southwark Council.

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Ormside St / Penarth St and environs, SE15

• PHOTOGRAPHING THE AREA UNDER THREAT – NON-NOSTAGICALLY

Any road up, all this as a really long way to say that, we and our mate Martin Dixon wanted to make sure what ever happens that there is a solid record of what is here and there now. So we took a lovely very hot summer day walk from the Peckham side of the OKR (Bianca Rd / Latona Rd) to the Rotherhithe side (Ilderton Rd via backstreets by the Gasometers) and snapped away like crazy! Just like our recent page on Bermondsey where we are tried to capture those commercial sites that will undoubtedly be knocked on the head in favour of posh flats, we are doing the same here but on a much much larger scale. Along the way, we found empty sites and sites now taken over in the meanwhile by, first numerous evangelical churches and, more recently, artists, artists studios and art businesses. It remains an amazing terrain to mooch about. You should do it.

OKR-Vacant-land-without-statsVital OKR’s MAP of COMMERCIAL USAGE OF LAND

Not much to say to end on, except that when London is just one large landscape of luxury towers dominated by the mostly dire subjectivities of new build homeowners then we can only wonder what on Earth we are doing here. Like our opening fragments of some of our histories along the Old Kent Rd, there is so much here that we should be defending. Not only shops and stuff but really our way of life. Different ways of life among us all for sure but as a working class neighbourhood there is something we all have in common. Simply put the rich will fuck us. As said above, Oh Old Kent Rd. Old Kent Rd. Damn! It’s just not a place you should fuck with.

 

* ‘Vast hostage situation’ is a term used by the excellent writer Phil A Neel in his book ‘Hinterland: America’s New Landscape of Class & Conflict’, (2018)

Elephant Shopping Centre, displaced traders, University of The Arts London and their anti-racism commitments

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What remains on the streets of Bermondsey?

Bermondsey has a history as a solidly working class area since the middle of the 19th Century when the area was rammed with factories, commercial buildings, small industrial buildings and units plus hundreds of railway arches along the original London and Greenwich Railway line. It was in these streets that food processing, for example, employed thousand of workers at famous sites like Crosse & Blackwell on Crimscott St, Peek Frean’s biscuits on Drummond St or Sarsons Vinegar & Hartley’s Jams on Tower Bridge Rd.

The neighbourhood also has dozens of council estates ranging from all the great periods of council house building programmes in the 20th Century such as the Elim Estate, the Purbrook Estate, the Neckinger Estate, the Meakin Estate and so on. Most of these were designed and built by the London County Council. This brick-built deck-access Modernist-inflected architecture is famous and each estate has its own custom features like massive entry arches or large common garden areas.

Since the turn of the millennium however new build housing development in Bermondsey, London SE1 has been increasing year-by-year as the area continues its real estate make over. Walking around the area recently, we were struck by just how many developments sites there were. Demolitions and conversions of old factories and warehousing are bringing in huge developments of 1000’s of mostly private and expensive flats – ‘London Square Bermondsey’ development, Grange Rd – prices from £895,000 stands as a good example of the gold rush.

Walking the remains of the older businesses in Bermondsey’s streets

Our walk took in that large parcel of land between Old Kent Rd and the railway viaducts along Druid St. There were still remnants and vistas of the old industrial landscape familiar in memory to those who’ve lived here for a while. The occasional factory gate or chimney still remains, often now packaged up as ‘heritage‘ and as working class history re-versioned to fit the totally ahistorical marketing talk of new luxury developments.

Bermondsey is now often cited by estate agents types as ‘up and coming‘, ‘vibrant and diverse‘, etc, The spiel is endless, of course. Adding to this has been the make over of the area in the last ten years by foodie markets and ‘good vibes‘ where Bermondsey can now be described by marketing for a new development as ‘fast becoming a sought after area to live and socialise due to its thriving bar and restaurant scene‘.

We asked our good friend in all these kind of matters, Martin Dixon, to set off with his camera and document some of Bermondsey’s still remaining commercial sites that we fear in the next five years will all be gone as the bubble economy of housing expands ever outwards:

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Lovely stuff. Just to say some of these businesses are no longer  what they are advertised as. For example, Walter Coles polythene bag place on Tanner St is now rented out as a location for film and photographic work.

Check out Martin’s websites for more of his good goods photos:

http://www.martindixon.org.uk

https://www.instagram.com/martin_dixon

 

 

WHERE’S DELANCEY? PROPERTY DEVELOPER DELANCEY AFRAID OF THE ELEPHANT

 

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Occasionally The Elephant and Castle community is visited by those who have the power to destroy it. In this case, the main culprit is the tax-avoiding offshore-registered company Delancey. We remember the hilarious moment a couple of years ago when one of the Delancey minions was presenting planning updates to the local community at one of those Southwark Council-run neighbourhood meetings where the said minion was asked about the fate of Pricebusters. The minion said he didn’t know what Pricebusters was. Well, seeing as Pricebusters is one of the biggest stores in The Elephant Shopping Centre, you could probably start to form some suspicions that the plans to ‘regenerate’ The Elephant weren’t so much aimed at local people and their shops but maybe, only every so slightly, they might actually be aimed at a different clientele! Hmmm? What do you think?

A lo and behold there came that time again this Thursday March 12th at Southwark’s ‘Empowering Communities North West Area Forum’ at Amigo Hall in Lambeth Rd where locals were promised that the meeting will ‘include an update from Delancey on the redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre‘. Now as you may know the excellent community campaign Up The Elephant has been working tirelessly for a few years resisting the social cleansing plans for The Elephant. In that time, the campaign has also secured many improvements to the original proposals submitted by Delancey to Southwark Council in Oct 2016:

  • An increase of social rented housing from 33 units of social rented equivalent, owned and managed by the developer, to 116 proper social rented units, owned and managed by Council or housing association.
  • Provision of affordable retail space for displaced traders in the Shopping Centre
  • Helped to establish a Traders’ Panel for Shopping Centre businesses to put their views and needs across.
  • Secured a temporary traders’ premises on Castle Square.
  • Trader relocation fund of £634,700 and pressured the Council to add a further £200,000 into the pot.
  • Argued for 15-year affordable retail leases (rents to be held at 75% market for Years 6-15)
  • A change to the s106 legal agreement, to better ensure any future increase in social rented housing.

 

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None of this comes without a fight though and Up The Elephant and supporters have been holding both the Council and Delancey to account through protests, public meetings, stalls outside the Shopping Centre, benefit film nights and so on. But it’s crunch time at The Elephant as Delancey has announced a closure date of the Centre for 31st July 2020, a matter of only a few months away. Both Latin Elephant and Up The Elephant have been doing an amazing job mapping which traders are there, how many are being offered any relocation and working with traders to fight their corner for decent compensation and/ or relocation. As we write we know that many traders are simply not being helped by Delancey, shops and stalls are closing down and the increasing uncertainty of whether many of these hand-to-mouth businesses can survive until July. Particularly affected are the traders who run market stalls outside the Shopping Centre. Viewed by Delancey as the least desirable in the shiny new development, they are currently getting the worst of it. You can read a good breakdown of the state of things here.

 

• PROPERTY DEVELOPERS – WORSE THAN ESTATE AGENTS

‘When developers visited the City, the used to creep in at the side door, now the councilors bring them in the front door, one on each arm’. Not only had it become respectable for councilors to be seen with developers, it soon became imperative to be involved with them. Indeed, it got to the stage where councilors and developers became indistinguishable. The only real way they could be told apart was that the developer was always talking and the councilor was forever nodding his or her head’.

From ‘Glasgow’s Not For Sale’ by Brendan McLaughin (in ‘The Reckoning’ by Workers City, 1990)

For us at Southwark Notes, somewhat long in the tooth but fighting fit most days, we remember the time when working class communities such as ours, viewed the property developer, like the landlord, as a class enemy. What was known was that deep down, despite any promises, the property developer just wasn’t on our side. What ever they brought to the community wouldn’t be any good. What they wanted was to profit and profit big and we were simply in the way. We knew that and communities worked from that intuition.

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As times went by, the story changed. In Southwark, the controlling Labour council is mostly made up of those who still believe in some working class aspirational nonsense they got from Tony Blair’s New Labour project. They also believe in the Blairite project of ‘regeneration’ that seeks to ‘rebalance’ communities by moving many more middle class people into them. To make this happen, Southwark has been demolishing whole estates or estate blocks to allow private developers to then build 1000s of luxury or overpriced flats as well as the mythical ‘affordable’ housing as a small percentage of the overall new houses being constructed. Although this might have a basis in some wacky New Labour urban policies of yore, for developers it’s a green light to come to our communities, displace them, demolish their organic fabric and make loads of profits for themselves and their investors.

The quote above from the excellent Workers City book out of Glasgow speaks directly to our experience of Southwark Council’s extended love-in with developers over the last 10 years. Peter John, the leader of The Council, standing down after a ten year reign this month, sadly won’t be able to have one last junket in Cannes at the annual property development jamboree MIPIM as it has been postponed due to the Corona virus. Shame as that trip was sponsored by:

  • 2020 Capital, developers of two sites in the Old Kent Rd area
    Avanton, owners of several Old Kent Rd sites including the Ruby Triangle and gasworks
    Berkeley, who have plans for a site on Malt Street
    British Land, the council’s Canada Water development partner
    Get Living, the build-to-rent brand which is a partnership between Qatari Diar and clients of Delancey, active at the Elephant & Castle
    Grosvenor, who have just received approval for their Biscuit Factory scheme in SE16
    Hollybrook – Southwark-based developers with several sites in the borough
    Joseph Homes – developers of a tall building in Sylvan Grove off Old Kent Rd.
    London Square – developers of the old Crosse & Blackwell factory in Bermondsey
    Safestore – self-storage firm with an Old Kent Road site
    Shaw Corporation – developers of HSS Hire and BP petrol station on Old Kent Road
    Urban & Provincial – developers of Carpetright site

You see where Workers City and we are going with this!

 

• “HOW ABOUT ‘FUCK DELANCEY’ AS THE SLOGAN?!”

When the Delancey date with the local community was announced a few weeks ago, Up The Elephant decided to in some ways escalate their campaign by hosting an ‘Unwelcoming Delancey’ protest outside the Empowering Communities event and to tell Delancey plainly to their face that we will fight to win this campaign. But fighting to win needs fighting words and so the event was underscored with the idea that the brilliant community of The Elephant will no longer stand deferent to the higher-ups, the powers that be, the developers and the Council and any or all of those who are complicit in the destruction of our neighbourhood. Although the demo would not interfere with those attending who wanted to hear updates from the Council, we would face Delancey down with a less than happy smiley face. The modern political terrain seems to be one where politeness is demanded at all times from we underlings lest those in power don’t get their way. Of course the actual slow violence of destroying our communities can then never be up for any angry questioning. As working class people who have been schooled from day one in deference to our betters, it didn’t take us long to throw that in the bin after many humiliating experiences at the hands of those above us.

Unwelcome Delancey March 12 2020 editUnwelcome Delancey Kick

And so we mobilised as best we could, we spread the word, we went online and did that social media thing, we spoke at events and joined a few UCU strike picket lines to make the connections between the financialisation of the university system and the financialisation of housing. We made the connections with those struggling on low pay and high rents to the plain facts that the social cleansing of London mirrors this austere landscape for most working class people and increasingly for many people traditionally seen as middle class. Sometimes we felt a bit like those old American Wobbly organisers going from struggle to struggle to offer support and make links in solidarity. But nothing wrong with that fine itinerant tradition!

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We went to join the UCU strike picket lines at London College of Communication (LCC) in The Elephant and Central St Martins in Kings Cross, both part of University of The Arts London (UAL). UAL are a development partner with Delancey and we heard about the appalling two-tier employment structure where majority Black and Brown cleaning, security and other maintenance staff are outsourced to aggressive race-to-the-bottom global services companies. We heard about excessive workloads for staff, low pay and the fact that a staggering 2500 UAL staff are on insecure ‘Associate Lecturer’ contracts.

Joining the picket at Goldsmiths we heard about the privatisation of student housing where similar private student housing providers take over formerly University run students housing increasing rents and lowering conditions. We briefly popped into the student occupation at LCC too to offer some support just as the management decided to more or less lock them into the room they were occupying. That didn’t surprise us as LCC management has always both been very aggressive to any support for Up The Elephant by staff or students at the same time as it ignores any attempt to seek accountability from them in relation the Elephant community they pretend they are a proud part of.

 

• WHERE’S DELANCEY WHEN YOU DON’T NEED THEM!?

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Anyhow what happened on the night of the big showdown? Simply this. We got together a good solid crew of locals and supporters, we put our banners out, we leafleted the folks going into the meeting and we waited. Well we didn’t wait so long as a little bird had told us that Delancey had cancelled coming to the meeting. Chickenshits or what? In the end they merely sent along a series of slides and asked the Council to present them to the meeting as the Shopping Centre update! We are hearing that this didn’t exactly go down well at a Council-run meeting designed to empower communities. Even the Council wasn’t that impressed. But hey, what’s the expression? – ‘Lay down with dogs and…’

(We apologise to all dogs! And chickens!)

To add an insult to an injury, Delancey then had the cheek to say that they were concerned about the Corona Virus and hence decided not to come in person! You really couldn’t make this shit up. This is their level of outright contempt. Our feeling is that they simply didn’t feel up to meeting hostile community critics and decided to remain at home at their offshore-registered British Virgin Islands tax haven for the night. For we mere local mortals who are seeing our neighbourhood mangled and destroyed, we don’t have the luxury or privilege to stay at home!

 

• A FEW WORDS ON THE FUTURE

It’s very desperate times. Government plans for housing and urban questions will see more and more of our communities under threat of social cleansing. Our material conditions will be further eroded. We will either turn again to each other or we will turn on each other. We have to think more about what actually organising our communities across intersecting struggles looks like. Sure we can mobilise protests and things but can we actually organise politically and in unity to resist attacks but also to improve our lives and conditions? By organising we mean calling on the deep roots we have with many people and groups where we live. We mean doing basic work of creating infrastructures of survival where we live. We can see some of these initiatives happening now with places like South Norwood Community Kitchen or Cooperation Town network. We can see this at places like food banks where with just a little more support and organising we can turn this into places of community sharing and gathering into food kitchens, advice centres and places to organise from, going beyond the helping hand of charity and running our own spaces of care and support and solidarity for all. We are a very long way from winning but everyday we win a little bit more if keep hope in each other and build confidence.

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When we changed the language of the Up The Elephant campaign to be a bit more angry and hopefully more of a piss-taking non-deferential mode, we did that to try and build up our energies and the energies of all anti-social cleansing campaigns and organising in London. There have been dozen of meetings and encounters in the last few years between these campaigns. These have been slow, slow work of meeting each other and swapping tactics and practical resources but they are always refreshing. Let’s step up to that work a bit more this year and centralise ourselves in our own community struggles as the people who actually know what we want and know what we need to do to get it. Fuck Delancey! Stay feisty everyone!

 


* Up The Elephant Campaign Traders demands:

  1. Commit Delancey to an increase of the relocation fund.
  2. Provide transparency and parity between the rent and service charge costs of the relocation options to bring them into line with each other.
  3. Amend the definition of “local independent operator” in the Section 106 agreement so it clearly includes the tenants subletting in Arch 7 and those in the Shopping Centre red line.
  4. Ensure fair treatment of the market traders and a commitment that all traders still within the red line will get a benefit of rent reductions until the Shopping Centre closes.
  5. Ensure that the independent business adviser, Tree Shepherd, applies the agreed criteria for the allocation of relocation spaces in a fair and transparent way.
  6. Ensure that the database of opportunities reflects what was agreed on the approval of planning permission.
  7. Prevent closure of the Shopping Centre until the traders have been relocated or have accessed a suitable level of compensation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHICKENS NOT VULTURES

A Little Elephant Among The Big One: Elephant Road, Railway Arches and ‘Regeneration’ in Focus

Southwark Notes is very happy to publish a fantastic guest posting from Talia Clarick, a writer and researcher who is currently helping along the good, good work of Latin Elephant campaign.


We cannot change the regeneration that comes, and sadly and gracefully these changes that come will bring consequences that our space will disappear. This date, in one year possibly, our site, number 6 and 7 will disappear. These spaces serve the community and have served the community for around 15 years. It is a Colombian and Latin space where you can have a bite to eat and learn to dance salsa as well. It is a culturally dignified space associated with the area it resides in.” – Cesar, Distriandina


DO YOU KNOW THE ELEPHANT RD?

Elephant Road is a small street that connects Walworth Road to New Kent Road. It only spans the length of a single city street but plays an indispensable role in the bustle of the neighborhood. On the East side of the road there is the site of the demolished Heygate Estate and the shiny new Lend Lease development Elephant Park. On the West side is the small entrance to the Elephant and Castle above-ground railway station. All down Elephant Rd, a series of railway arches support the Thameslink train on its daily journeys to and from the railway station. The street is entangled in a thorny knot of ownership, with usual real estate suspects Delancey, Lendlease, Network Rail, and now Arch-Co, the new owners of the railway arches, looming large.

Elephant Rd View

All of the businesses on the street exist under railway arches, and are often overlooked in maps of the area, where the above ground railway takes priority. The activities in the arches give life to the street, which is almost always active, due to the fact that some spaces are open early as cafes, and some take on a more nocturnal identity such as Corsica Studios and Distriandina. The arches of Elephant Road were occupied within the last twenty years and have become home to mostly Latin American businesses although closer to New Kent Rd are TR Autos and Recycling bike shop.

Unsurprisingly, the arches are also key elements of the current ‘regeneration’ as Arches 6 and 7, currently home to Colombian café and nightclub Distriandina, and a small shopping arcade called ‘Elephant Central’ are planned to be cleared by property developer Delancey in the forthcoming changes to the area. Delancey’s excuse? They need to make way for a pathway from the ‘New Town Centre’ to the park across the street, or perhaps a way for wealthy residents of the new high-rises of Elephant Park to leisurely stroll back through the arches into what will inevitably become a landscape of Waitrose? Zara? Starbucks?

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CGI image of what the opened-up Arches 6 and 7 looks like – Delancey

 

After Delancey purchased the site of the Shopping Centre in April 2014, its army of architectural renderers created these images of what the empty arches might look like in the coming years after their ‘Town Centre’ has been constructed. In 2016, Southwark Council released some stylized images of what the arches may turn into and people are walking through the new east-west pathways, in a spectacle-induced daze.

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CGI image of what the opened-up Arches 6 and 7 looks like – Southwark Council
Southwark Council wrote in 2016 that “The routes through the arches will be largely stripped back to their Victorian brickwork and exposed soffit to the platforms above. The stone paving to the street surface will extend from the Town Centre, through the arches, to meet Elephant Road. Paving modules here should respond to the geometry of each arch to further emphasize the two, near parallel viaducts

Delancey’s vision is that the clearance of the arches forms a part of their larger project of creating an “open-air pedestrianised town centre in the heart of Elephant and Castle” which will include “safer pedestrian routes, wider pavements, connections through the railway arches, and a public square.” Their ongoing lack of commentary on how this will actually affect the existing tenants of the arches remains steadfast here. But thankfully, the well-organised campaigners at Latin Elephant, with the help of Petit Elephant, have created an updated map of the current status of the tenants of the Shopping Centre and the railway arches. This mapping work is key to the understanding of ownership in the area as well a functioning as an innovative campaign tool. This largely compensates for the lack of consultation and lack of understanding that the traders have received from the developers themselves.

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Petit Elephant’s Map Below Ground at Elephant Shopping Centre

Arches 6 7 Red Lines Graph Reader

A ‘social enterprise’ called Tree Shepherd, a private consultancy appointed by Southwark Council as an ‘independent’ business advisor has been set up to supposedly consult traders about their potential relocation deals and sites. But Tree Shepherd’s funding comes directly from Delancey, proving that they are dependent on the very developer hoping to kick out the traders. There are currently close to 100 independent businesses in the ‘red line’ for relocation, but the amount of space the traders will receive in their relocated units is difficult to establish because Southwark Council and Delancey have changed the layouts of their relocation facilities. Now, the areas of the future units do not match those publicly available in Southwark Council planning portal. The updated plans are ‘kept secret.’ However, if we draw on the original plans, most of the traders have been offered a unit that is substantially lower than their current business area. An earlier Southwark Notes article reports on Tree Shepherd’s multidimensional ineffectiveness: asking traders deceptive questions about whether they want to relocate, not including the vast majority of traders, scheduling meetings sparsely, and making people fill in forms with no tangible outcomes, which is why the work of Latin Elephant is so important.

 

UNCERTAIN TIMES SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL

Nowadays, they know that they can put a nice glass door, and then they can rent it to someone big like Nando’s and to some big gym, and then they can pay just 40k-60k a year. So that’s the reason they closed down the whole lot in Brixton, and the same thing will happen here. And they just give us a lease, and they give us six months notice when they are going to need the arch- they are going to need the arch one day, they might ask you one day to go and they find someone else, that’s it.”– Diego, Computer Repair – Arco Central

Speaking to some of the traders in the arches, you get a sense of the continuing uncertainty around the future of these particular spaces. Many traders expressed their reliance on Latin Elephant in informing them on the current status of their possible relocation. The precarious position the traders are in remains as the dates for the potential relocation have become muddled in a relentless cycle of delays. One of the most common complaints from traders over the long years with the regeneration hanging over their head has been the lack of information and the frustration of never knowing what’s going to happen. For some, it’s produced a weary resignation.

Arches 6 and 7, the arches Delancey wants to clear, are fundamentally different in how they operate, as Arch 6 is filled by a single business and Arch 7 is filled with a myriad of small businesses. However, the developers are treating both of these sites as two independent businesses in total: one being Distriandina, the leaseholder for Arch 6, the other being Beset International, the leaseholder for Arch 7. This erases the presence of the other smaller businesses in the Arch 7, as their interests are not recognized immediately in the relocation scheme, and have to depend on the single leaseholder.

As of now, the traders of Arch 7 are looking for relocation in a site nearby. Gathering information from the traders, representatives from Latin Elephant explain that this is the extent of the information that the traders of Arch 7 were given. The rest of the information remains vague, as well as dependent on the results of the Judicial Review, and the amount of money they can get from the relocation fund. Distriandina is a similar case, the critical difference being that Distriandina is a single tenant. Because of how symbolic the place is for the Colombian community who comes from far and wide across London to the arch, they were able to make a case for themselves to the Council and developers, and gain a temporary space in Castle Square across the street. However, this did not come without a challenge, as the space they were allotted is much smaller than the current site. An ‘open dialogue’ with Delancey and Southwark Council appeared to be more of a box-ticking exercise for the developers to claim they were engaging with the traders.

This uncertainty has caused undue stress among people whose livelihoods depend on the arches and nearby Shopping Centre as both means of income and spaces of communal gathering. This constant delay is also caused by Delancey’s refusal to meet the minimum requirements of the Council’s own local plan, something that was recently challenged in the Up The Elephant campaign’s Judicial Review on October 22-23rd at the High Court on The Strand. The Judicial Review results are still pending but the arguments were that Delancey’s ‘regeneration’ scheme is still not providing enough social housing. Up The Elephant is also campaigning hard with traders for a fair relocation for businesses in the Shopping Centre and against unaffordable rents. Worth reading 35% Campaign’s summary here entitled ‘Delays and Delancey’.

 

ARCH-CO: THE UNHOLY ALLIANCE OF REAL ESTATE KINGS

The Elephant Rd arches have also been thrown in the middle of a national narrative as all Network Rail arches have recently and controversially been sold off. The lucky buyer was a joint venture between British private developers Telereal Trillium (it has a property portfolio of more than 12,000 properties in the U.K ) and the infamous Blackstone, a U.S private equity company, who formed a joint venture called The Arch-Co immediately adding another layer to the privatisation of publicly owned land at the local and national scale. This £1.5 billion sell-off of covered the span of 5,261 different properties across England and Wales, with more than half of the portfolio being based in London. This was in response to Network Rail’s £35 billion debt to the Department of Transportation, and funding shortfall in the years 2014-2019, which had left many projects underfunded and risked not being completed. So they decided to sell the arches, their “assets”, in what was termed an “Asset disposal strategy” in 2016 in order to cover the costs.

The selloff is indeed an all-inclusive scrapping of affordable rents, as the arches have historically been cheap spaces to set up shop, as well as offering a generous amount of floor space to people to subdivide and design as they wish. Many of the businesses in the arches are unique to the space allotted to them, as the arches offer spaces for both industrial and commercial uses. On a single stretch of arches in London and the UK one might find a car repair shop, a brewer, a hair salon, art studio, a fitness gym, and so on. As a part of the sell-off, many of these varied tenants have already faced daunting increases in rents, which could increase by 54% in the next three or four years, if all follows the predictable trajectory of the marketplace.

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Throughout the process, there was also a lack of input from existing tenants of the spaces. The audit also states the lack of community consultation was in part because the leases were not directly up for removal by the sell-off. However, the excellent campaign group Guardians of the Arches note the selloff as a threat to the tenants’ agency and demanded a fairer deal from it, including the ability for tenants to purchase parts of the portfolio, more favorable rental terms, security of tenure, and formal recognition as a tenant’s association. Network Rail objected to most of these issues, stating that “stronger tenant protections were unnecessary as the sale agreement ensures existing leases remain in place, and that stronger protections would contravene its requirements to act commercially and could raise the risk of judicial review or State Aid Challenge.”

But what does “acting commercially” mean when these arches are already filled with a wide variety of commercial activities that serve many communities in Britain and Wales? The ability to make a profit, to serve the interests of private developers, same as it ever was…

 

THE U.K’s RAILWAY ARCHES KINDA INTERESTING HISTORY

It is important to understand how these current stretches of arches have evolved to accommodate a wide variety of uses. The historical trajectory of the arch spaces is interesting, as it demonstrates how the underside of infrastructure has been creatively used beyond its original intent as a set of viaducts supporting the above ground rail. Focusing on Elephant Road, the gradual occupation of the arch spaces is a testament to how the community in Elephant and Castle evolved from the ground up, both literally and metaphorically.

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Elephant Rd, circa 1940

 

The railway itself was constructed in the Victorian era, but its arches sat on what appears to be vacant until the turn of the century. Going through the Post Office Directory records, local history archives and other historical records, one finds little information on the former lives of this street, aside from two photographs of it in post-WW2 reconstruction phase, prior to the Heygate Estate’s construction. The street took on an entirely different character as it does today. The particular rail line on Elephant Road, formerly known as the London Chatham and Dover line, was built on viaducts cutting through Southwark, Walworth, and Camberwell. The arches of Elephant Road lie adjacent to the old railway station, also built after the speculative ‘railway manias’ in 1862. Today, the railway station has entrances on Elephant Road as well as entrances within the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre at the height of the platforms above.

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Elephant Rd, circa 1940

In Britain, for decades after the arches’ construction, they had a poor image amongst the general public. They were initially managed and occupied in an ad-hoc way, giving space for trades such as ‘smithies, marine stores, stables, mortar mills, the storage of old tubs, casks and lumber, and other low class trades.’ as Brian Rosa writes in a fascinating Ph.d study of railway arches. They were also associated with poverty because the rail-line was often deliberately built in working class neighborhoods. Throughout late 19th century and through most of the 20th century, the arches maintained a marginal, industrial position within London and the UK. It was only when the management of the arches became embedded in the city’s ‘formal’ economy that their mainstream cultural reception changed. While there are exceptions, the overall de-industrialisation of British economy opened up these spaces for smaller-scale practices. In the 1980’s the British Rail Property Board proposed a large program of arch refurbishment with the intention to improve the arches so that they were competitive with modern buildings, and yielded higher rents.

As the area underwent de-industrialisation in the 1980’s, the private sector had a greater influence on the makeup of the railway arches. The changing perception of these spaces gave way to large-scale cultural shifts and the focus on reclaiming urban space for leisure, entertainment, and lifestyle, as they became friendlier to a wide variety of entrepreneurial pursuits. This also changed the way the spaces themselves were configured, as they became more flexibly designed. The spaces offered opportunities to expand from a single railway arch into multiple, as is the case with Corsica Studios in Arches 4 and 5. It also allowed single arches to evolve into more expansive networks of many arches. The “parallel renting market” that was established offered cheap prices for people to set up shops in the arches, and was less affected by normal commercial price pressures, and local competition for the land. This model has allowed for certain groups of arches to grow into clusters of socially linked businesses, like the Latin American businesses on Elephant Road who came to the area in the last 20 years.

 

WELCOME TO LATIN ELEPHANT: MIGRATION AND SETTLEMENT

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, many Latin American migrants came to the UK because it was easy to get a work contract from abroad. People migrated to the UK following the passage of the Immigration Act of 1971, a piece of legislation that put more restrictions on migrants coming from countries with colonial ties to Britain. Many migrants came with the idea of working for a few years, saving money, and returning to their home countries. Some have stayed, as a returning to the home country adds a risk of never being able to return to Britain. Patria Roman, from Latin Elephant, has well described this history and process in her 1999 book ‘The Making of Latin London’.

In the following decade, the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre was experiencing the effects of the UK recession, which opened up the area to Latin American migrants looking for affordable spaces to set up shop. The Shopping Centre began to lease the spaces for cheap, and entrepreneurs began to repair the shops that had not been occupied for decades and began to transform them. In 1991, there were hardly any shops open on the first floor of the Centre, but a year later, Latin Americans began opening shops there. La Fogata opened in June of 1992, followed by Inara Travels. By 1994, there were ten shops owned by Latin Americans. This growing Latin American presence began to define what is a large contingent of Elephant and Castle’s demographic, and Latin Americans began to relocate businesses to the area, which includes Elephant Road. You can see a great pictorial summary of the early Latin businesses in The Elephant here.

Talking to Latin American traders about their early days in the railway arches, many of them point to the turn of the century as the beginning of the making of this particular facet of Latin London. Distriandina moved from North London to South London in this period, but originally functioned as a food distributor. The business moved to the South because of the growing presence of Latin American consumers in the area, as well as the space of the railway arch itself offering an accommodating place to sell and ship mostly Colombian products in and out.

In the early 2000’s, the nature of the shops on the street was more accommodating to businesses involving large-scale shipping, and more ‘heavy-weight’ products. The street was not yet a place to visit for a cup of coffee or bunuelo. The two mini-arcades on this block Arco Central and Elephant Central respectively were home to a carpet shop and shipping company called Beset, whose office still exists in the arch, alongside a series of other small stalls. The traders who were there during this period describe the street’s life as hectic, and ‘higgledy piggledy’ and filled with the coming and going of trucks, carpets, bedding, and musical equipment.

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Local campaign to save the Open Space on Elephant Rd in 2013 gathering outside Distriandina

Many of the traders refer to the Heygate Estate’s demolition as a part of their workday observations during this time. The residents of the Heygate Estate were large users of these former businesses of the arches, as well as the Shopping Centre. Traders note this demolition as one of the major turning points in the street’s character, as what sat directly on the Elephant Park site before was a publicly owned lot with children’s playgrounds, a pitch for football matches, an actively social space where there is now an underused, bleak square with the visible presence of CCTV cameras and a security guard.

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Half of Corsica Studios at Arch 5 and Distriandina at Arch 6

During the early 2000’s, Corsica Studios moved onto the street, also from North London. Corsica Studios, which only operated in a single arch at the time as a practice space for music, and art studio. Next to Corsica Studios to the South was a music equipment business (now a second arch-space for Corsica Studios), which Corsica Studios frequently used for its parties.

As the Latin American community expanded in Elephant and Castle, and the market for carpets, and bedding dwindled, the formation of Arco Central and Elephant Central sprung up at similar times. In Arco Central and Elephant Central, the spaces were subdivided into stalls, and mezzanine levels were constructed to fit an even greater number of small-scale operations. Throughout the years, the stalls have changed uses many times, but their scale, and short-term leases allow them to become favorable spaces for people to establish their own businesses in the area. Within Arco Central there is currently a clothing store, a computer repair shop, a tailor, a money transfer, an immigration consultancy. In Elephant Central, there is a Colombian products store, two shipping companies, a Café, and a hair salon.

Traders mention how the subdivided spaces act as micro-communities, and point to both the design of the spaces, as well as the multiplicity of functions when they describe how they are used day-to-day. They allow people to transfer money, ship a package, grab a coffee, and purchase an accessory in one go. They also point to the transnational identity of their users, as they offer vital places for people to speak Spanish, pass time, and communicate with other people in the area. Traders often shift around these spaces, expanding their stalls, moving around the arch, progressing their particular businesses.

This also allows for spontaneity and creativity, not a ready-made agenda from the top-down. A trader in Arco Central mentioned that he used to hold martial arts classes in one of the unoccupied stalls because the space allowed him to do so, as he has been practicing Tae Kwon Doe since coming to London and has now moved on to a larger studio in Stockwell. A trader in the clothing stall in this arch mentions expanding from one stall to another upon the growing success of his business, and points to the design of the space as allowing him to easily expand. Another trader mentions working in a food products store at the bottom of the arch, and establishing his own office for legal advising on the top floor of the same arch years later.

Throughout the 2000’s, Distriandina also evolved from a Colombian food distributor to a restaurant and venue for salsa. As the nature of the street began to shift, the owner of the space decided to make it more of a gathering space for the community. The design of the interior of the space transformed to accommodate the changing character of the street and neighborhood. A mezzanine was constructed for the kitchen upstairs, a bar was added downstairs, as well as bathrooms, and areas to dance and gather. Distriandina is also used for salsa classes on certain days, and features salsa nights Friday-Sunday. Distriandina has also shown great love and support for the Up The Elephant campaign to save the Shopping Centre!

Corsica Funding 2018

It’s been a bit divisive down on Elephant Rd in that although Corsica is recognised by the Greater London Authority as an ‘existing cultural’ space, Distriandina is not and despite its popularity on the weekend is reported to be only a coffee bar. With this dubious fudge, Corsica will receive £125,000 of funding to soundproof their club space presumably to spare them the wrath of those new wealthier neighbours while Distriandina will be thrown out of their arch all together. None of this is to point the finger at Corsica who have supported the area for over 20 years but more so at the sketchy and appalling way Black and Brown communities get treated under the regime of ‘regeneration’. With this in our minds, we also give a big shout out to our friends at Save Latin Village in Tottenham who are facing the same long battle as Latin traders at The Elephant!

 

COMMUNITY CAN PLAN ITS OWN FUTURE!

This is simple: if you do a treat the public well and delicately, good word will spread. It is like working in a restaurant. If you make bad food no one will come to your restaurant. If you do well, if you make good food, people will come and spread the good word.” –Alexander, Arco Central

Distriandina and the other businesses along Elephant Road played a large role in Latin Elephant’s envisioning of a Latin Quarter, a document envisioning an official recognition of the Latin American Community in the neighborhood, published in 2016. It highlighted key parts of Elephant and Castle as especially important to the Latin American community, and offered small but significant updates in the designs of these sites to amplify the importance of the already existing businesses. In this plan, there are drawings that display small facelifts to the railway arches and the surrounding street, and offer improvements in the layout of the roads, safer crosswalks for pedestrians, and clear signage and entryways into this cultural quarter. Although this vision was never executed, it allowed for imaginative renderings of what one could, yes, safely call ‘regeneration’ by the people who are most familiar with the area.

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Elephant Road is no Bond Street. It is not the most glamorous road to walk along. The arches along the North side of the road are covered in graffiti, and the pavement is poorly maintained. This makes it easy for it to get overlooked by passerby and developer alike, and allows people to associate the street with dereliction. It gives a greater case to developers like Delancey for their regenerating the area, and city councilors to welcome this. This gives developers the opportunity to run rampant with proposals that cleanse the area of highly complex social enterprises that have taken years to cultivate, and have infinite potential to grow even further, as seen in the Latin Quarter proposal. Just from talking to traders, there was an overwhelming antagonism to the regeneration, though some traders remained neutral to it.

The Elephant Never Forgets – The Struggle Continues:

“They are planning to give to the traders a really small place but there is just like 30 or 40 places for people. But we are more than what they offered him, so I don’t know how they are going to do it. Also, someone told me that there is a place where they are supposed to put the traders, but they are refusing the applications. They are telling to the traders that they cannot get those places.”

“I think this it is the identity that we have here. We are here in England. This is a different culture for us, a different language. Anyway it’s London, it’s very multicultural but it’s not our country. In this place we find a little piece of where we are, it’s like our identity, our culture, where we are from. For example I came here five years ago, I live by myself. I don’t like to cook, but I like the food from my country so here I can find this. I think that we are more than a building, we are more than a space in here. We are more than a commercial transaction. They are selling the space to the other people to make more money. This place is more than that. I think that they are not saying from that side, they are saying from another side. It’s sad, but I think it’s the reality. I don’t know if there is something that we can change. I don’t know, we just have to wait…”-
Both from Lisette, Arch 7

Hearing these local points of view makes you see that the situation at the Elephant and Castle railway arches reflects the complex, multifaceted and critical aspect of the regeneration of the area. It also points to a more national conversation on affordability and the survival of small local businesses. Existing within the Network Rail selloff, the struggle for affordable rents on Elephant Road reflects both local and national campaigns, fighting for the stability and livelihoods of small businesses and their surrounding communities. The use of terminology like “asset disposal” really begs the question “who needs to be disposed of… who needs to get in the bin?”. Despite the Council’s support during the long campaign for the area to be officially recognized as a Latin Quarter, it seems that there are few actual planning protections for the current Latin traders. The first feisty battle is ongoing at the Shopping Centre but latterly those in the Elephant Rd arches with the new owners of the Arches being in part a predatory ‘vulture fund’ and Delancey’s plans to knock through two arches, will face the sharp end of commercial displacement that ‘regeneration’ schemes usually bring. The struggle continues…as always! See you there!

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FIGHTING TO WIN!! – THE STRUGGLE FOR THE ELEPHANT SHOPPING CENTRE – WHERE ARE WE AT?

The Elephant has long been a battleground for its mixed working class community whether that has been trying to save the Heygate Estate from demolition or now trying to secure decent community benefits for any redevelopment scheme of the famous Elephant Shopping Centre. Over the years the community campaigns have been tireless in defence of our neighbourhood but it has been a major struggle. When we used the term ‘Fighting To Win’ we are deadly serious because the consequences of losing are seeing our neighbourhood and all those small ways we live and survive in the everyday broken up. Already hundreds of working class tenants from the Heygate have been ‘decanted’ out of the area for being the ‘wrong sort of people’. Now we are facing the death of the heart of the area – The Shopping Centre – where people shop, socialize and relax in numerous different but lovely ways!

Elephant Shopping Centre decline

Campaigns have been mainly challenging these ‘regeneration’ plans on two areas:

• the lack of truly affordable homes in the scheme.
• and the terrible way Shopping Centre traders are being treated in preparation for any demolition of the Centre

From the get go, Southwark Council have had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the community campaigns who have actually through fighting secured better numbers of truly social rented homes in the scheme and also enabled traders to have some power and support in their negotiations for relocation and /or compensation for the businesses. But we will not stop until our demands are met.

 

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••• Our friends at Corporate Watch have produced for the campaigns an amazing case study of Delancey – “Tax Haven Tories Devouring Neighbourhoods’. Recommended for its insights and news of how Delancey funds these social cleansing schemes.

 

• WHAT LONDON NEEDS IS MANY MORE SOCIAL RENTED HOMES

In terms of the lack of truly affordable homes for locals in the Shopping Centre plan, we are taking Southwark Council to the High Court to seek a Judicial Review of the plans and fight for extra social rented homes to be added to the scheme. We are arguing that a fair few number of porkies (trans: lies!) have been told to the Council by the developer Delancey re: how many social rented homes they are able and willing to provide. We know with GLA grant funding it should be many more. Remember when the Council approved planning permission for Delancey’s scheme they accepted the measly number of 33 social rented homes out of a total of 979 flats that Delancey wanted to build? We said ‘No!’ and got the number up to 116. Although this is a result we are still concerned that these homes have no guarantee of ever being built as they only come in the 2nd phase of the development nearly ten years in the future.

As 35% Campaign argues: ‘Next week’s legal challenge will argue that Southwark Council’s planning committee was misled about the maximum amount of affordable housing the scheme could viably provide. Delancey committed unconditionally to providing 116 social rented homes, but is asking for Mayor’s funding, which won’t go towards increasing the number of social rented homes. We argue that this £11.2m of public money should provide us with another 42 much needed social rented homes. This would still fall short but nevertheless go a long way towards meeting the minimum policy requirement of 165 social rented homes’.

JR FREE COACH OCT 2019

>>> Support us at the High Court on Tues Oct 22nd from 9am. We will be outside with a show of support from 9am to 10am and then we will be inside The Court arguing our case with a brilliant legal team. Book a coach seat here<<<

 

• WE SUPPORT ALL TRADERS BIG AND SMALL AT THE SHOPPING CENTRE

A vital part of the campaigns have been getting to know traders in the Centre and trying to help them with their struggle against Delancey and the Centre manager the massive property agent Savills. We have also been heavily critical of the ‘social enterprise’ Tree Shepherd who were funded by Delancey to badly manage a shoddy relocation process. Campaigners have been amazing at keeping in touch with traders in struggle, making relationships and suggesting ideas and practicalities like a Traders Panel.

However, for traders, life is exceptionally hard at the Shopping Centre with decreasing footfall, long hours and continuous uncertainly about their livelihoods. Campaigners have this week been going round the Shopping Centre talking to traders about the campaign, the Judicial Review and what we are demanding. Many traders increasingly tell us they are fed up with Delancey and the pitfalls of the relocation process.

We wanted to provide some details on this and so here follows some summaries of what we have heard. Please bear in mind that it’s really hard to get any actual useful info from Southwark or the Shopping Centre management so much of this relies on campaigners who have been tireless in pulling all this info together from chats with traders and from numerous and often not at all accurate Council documents. The issues are a little bit complex with arguments over rent and sq footage and all. But it’s worth reading through the following to get a small sense of the inner workings of details campaigners are trying to be on top of, alongside traders, to resist these social cleansing plans.

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Above: Perronet House garages (photo: SE1 website) and Council plans for a mini mall there

 • Perronet House re-jigged as ‘Elephant Arcade’
Perronet House is a council estate on the West side of the Elephant. Southwark Council approved in July 2018 its own plans to turn one of the estate’s car park basements into a mini-shopping mall for traders from the Shopping Centre.

As we are hearing, the majority of traders who have been offered a place in Perronet have not chosen this site as preferred option probably because they are not happy about the ‘geography‘ of the place. There are concerns about lack of window display space for shops. We’ve been told that ‘10 out of 12 units do not have external windows to display items’. The external walls don’t look like a market, the ceiling is too low and the size of units is very small. Traders are very concerned about starting a business from zero in a place that currently has no trade.

On top of this, this group of traders will have to pay significantly higher rents and service charge than their current ‘neighbours‘ in the Shopping Centre who are moving to other locations within the same ‘redevelopment’ scheme. As a reference, a trader in a small 27sqm unit in Perronet will pay a total of £68,000 (with service charge & VAT but without business rates) for the first five years, compared to a total of £54,000 for a 26sqm Ground Floor unit at Delancey’s own ‘affordable retail’ units in the Castle Square box park at Elephant Rd. That’s a 25% difference among traders.

On a square footage comparison, Castle Square are £18 per sq ft for the 1st floor and £24 per sq ft for the Ground Floor. Perronet units (Council-owned property) are an average of £27.6 per sq ft for the first five years (£24 for Y1-2 and £30 Y3-5). Service charge is also considerably more expensive in Perronet than in Castle Square. Southwark Council-owned market rate is £11 per sq ft whereas private developer’s site is £8 per sq ft. That is 38% more expensive in a Council-owned property. When challenged with these figures, Southwark argues that they have made a great effort borrowing money from another budget, therefore they have expectations as to how quickly they would have a ‘return‘.

When challenged, Meanwhile Space (the Community Interest Company that has been awarded the contract to operate the new Perronet market) claimed Perronet does not belong to the Shopping Centre planning permission Section 106 agreement, and that ‘Council commercial properties are not marketed at a discount to market rent‘. We would seriously like some clarification of the above..

There are also some worrying concerns as to whether Meanwhile Space will operate the market on a continuous basis, or if there is a possibility the Council will ask a trader to keep maintenance of the site, open and close alongside the regular duties as a sole trader. So it seems there are lots of issues for traders taking up a relocation space there.

• Relocation Funding
Southwark and Delancey have divided the ‘Relocation allowances’ (£634,700 as a minimum) into two phases: Professional Services / Cost of Relocations

For Professional Services,  they are suggesting traders ‘minimise shared costs’ by sharing a solicitor.

As for the Cost of Relocations, Southwark have come up with a calculation based on ‘industry standards‘ (although there is no justification as to how they came up with this calculation) of mere £18 per sq ft to £32 per sq ft for each business, depending on the type of business and also the size of the new relocation unit. As a way of reference, a trader under the ‘non-food retail‘ category, after more than 15 years of trading in the Shopping Centre would get just over £3,000 for relocation. Market stalls would only get a flat rate of £2,000 per business.

ELEPHANT PARK Retail Ad Oct 2019

Several traders have challenged these figures and yet the Council suggested the consultation on this issue has been positive. In reality, Lendlease, the developer of Elephant Park, quoted JZ Mobiles, a Shopping Centre business, £177 per sq ft for the fit-out works at one of its retail units. This price excluded ‘Professional Services’ and other expenses, which gives an indication of ‘industry standards’. Eventually, JZ Mobiles was rejected in their scheme on the basis that residents moving into Elephant Park do not need a mobile shop. Just for clarification, Lend Lease has yet to provide some affordable retails units to Shopping Centre traders as part of their s106 obligations.

• Please Don’t Say ‘Heygate Estate’, Say ‘Elephant Park’
This latter point has been discussed with Cllr Stephanie Cryan (Cabinet Member for Jobs, Business and Innovation) who, together with Cllr Johnson Situ (Cabinet Member for Growth, Development and Planning), have held meetings with Lendlease to discuss the rejection of traders in the Elephant Park scheme. Cabinet members came back with the argument that the private developer has run a study on the type of businesses people moving into their new flats would like, and apparently there isn’t appetite for a mobile shop. Not only does this seems unrealistic but it is extremely disappointing that the Cabinet member for Small Businesses is citing this alleged ‘study‘ as a reason for the developer not to fulfill their s106 obligations, which clearly state there is priority for ‘displaced traders in the Elephant and Castle Opportunity Area‘ to bid for the eight Affordable units in Elephant Park scheme.

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(Excellent mapping work done by Petit Elephant)

However the above example of JZ Mobiles demonstrates that Lend Lease are being picky about which traders they will take. They are talking about how they made a survey of the kind of shops people want and apparently mobile phone shops were a ‘No’. This is all very underhand, sneaky but entirely predictable. Can’t sell your expensive luxury flats overseas if the brochure has to feature egg and chips caffs or mobile phone shops! See…these are the mechanisms of the reality of social cleansing.

To this date, it appears that not a single trader from the so-called ‘red line’ of the Shopping Centre development has been offered a unit in Elephant Park scheme, where 10% of the total retail space has to be offered in priority to ‘displaced traders‘ from the area. We would be happy to hear that this is not the case.

Councillors kept reiterating Lendlease is ‘absolutely committed‘ to fulfill their s106 obligations, however they couldn’t prove they have actually signed a lease so far with a single displaced trader from the ‘red-line’ (those businesses eligible for relocation).

• Up The Elephant’s Judicial Review (JR)
Both Delancey and Southwark are spreading the word that they expect an imminent decision by the judge soon after 23rd October, on the basis that it will go their way. They have also been weaponising traders concerns about the Shopping Centre closure against the campaigns by muddying these concerns as about being worried about the JR rather than the age old discontent with Delancey. When we saw this public relations exercise carried out on Twitter by Stephanie Cryan, we responded by leafleting the Shopping Centre traders with a JR Factsheet in English and Spanish.

Cryan JR PR

A few months back, Delancey also used the JR as the excuse not to proceed with relocation (‘everything is frozen’) but more recently they have ‘committed’ to building temporary units at Castle Square and moving forward with distribution of funds and so on. In the minutes from latest All parties Trader Panel meeting on 10th September, the mention ‘within the next two months, notice will be served on all traders regarding closure of the shopping centre’. They have been telling traders they are leaving April/May 2020!

• Maintenance of the Shopping Centre
Finally, maintenance, security and running of the Shopping Centre are still an obligation for Delancey as landlords, and week after week we keep hearing of incidents and security issues, toilets being blocked, the obvious lack of painting of the facade and most recently a serious leak from the ceiling due to heavy rains. Health and safety at Cafe Castelo was compromised as water kept dripping on top of the coffee machine, as the manager tried several times to get some assistance from Delancey representatives but the only help he got was a bucket from cleaning staff that were giving him a hand. Although a new small Co-op has opened where the big Tesco was and a new community hub has been opened on the second floor, traders still feel nervous, afraid and tired with all they have to constantly battle for.

FIGHTING TO WIN!

Up The Elephant community campaign won’t be stopping anytime soon. No matter what the outcome of the JR we will be fighting for our small corner of South London. We’d like you to join us. Keep an eye out on the Up The Elephant Twitter for updates and dates of open meetings for all concerned for their neighbourhood.

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>>> Thanks to everyone – campaigners and traders and supporters – who helped with this article!<<<
>> More Fire The Elephant!! <<

 

And much love and solidarity to our ‘sister’ campaign up at Latin Village, Wards Corner who are facing the same crappy redevelopment plans:

latin-village

Sobre Retrasos y Delancey – Destruyamos mitos sobre el Centro Comercial Elephant & Castle

Sobre Retrasos y Delancey – Destruyamos mitos sobre el Centro Comercial

Delancey está culpando de los retrasos de sus planes en el centro comercial y de la reubicación de los comerciantes a la demanda legal planteada por residentes. A continuación respondemos a Delancey.

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial (JR, en inglés) está retrasando los planes de desarrollo urbano.

-Nosotros decimos:

-La negativa de Delancey a la hora de proporcionar viviendas sociales es lo que está causando retrasos. En su proyecto inicial de 2016, Delancey no ofrecía auténticas viviendas sociales. Residentes y comerciantes tuvieron que pelear por DOS AÑOS para conseguir vivienda social; conseguimos algunas concesiones, pero aún no son suficientes. Delancey nos ha obligado a continuar nuestra batalla en los tribunales – Delancey es el causante del retraso.

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial está retrasando la reubicación de los comerciantes.

-Nosotros decimos:

-Nada impide a Delancey para que ayude a reubicar a los comerciantes, con independencia del recurso judicial. Algunos comerciantes ya han sido reubicados en Perronet House. Otros tienen espacio en Castle Sq. Estos se consiguieron gracias a la Asociación de Comerciantes de Elephant, Latin Elephant y la campaña Up the Elephant. Pero muchos otros comerciantes han sido excluidos. Estamos peleando con los comerciantes para conseguir más espacio comercial en Sayer Street, que pertenece a Lendlease. Southwark Law Centre ha tomado el caso en representación de los comerciantes.

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial significa que el dinero del Fondo para la Reubicación de los comerciantes no puede utilizarse.

-Nosotros decimos:

-No habría un Fondo para la Reubicación de los comerciantes si los residentes no lo hubieran reclamado. Nada impide que Delancey utilice este dinero para ayudar a los comerciantes en el proceso de reubicación, con independencia del recurso judicial.

El Fondo para la Reubicación forma parte del Plan de Reubicación para los comerciantes. Delancey no tenía plan de reubicación en su proyecto inicial en 2016, y se negó a tener uno hasta que obtuvo finalmente la licencia urbanística en 2018, dejando a los comerciantes en una situación de incertidumbre y sin posibilidades de planear el futuro de sus pequeños negocios. El fondo sólo tiene £634.700

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial está retrasando Castle Square.

-Nosotros decimos:

-No. Castle Square es un proyecto diferente con un acuerdo legal s106 distinto. Delancey puede construirlo tan pronto como desee. Delancey no tenía una propuesta para un espacio temporal para los comerciantes en su proyecto inicial. Castle Square se consiguió gracias a los comerciantes y residentes después de dos años batallando.

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial ha ‘paralizado’ el acuerdo legal s106.

-Nosotros decimos:

-El acuerdo legal s106 es un contrato voluntario entre Delancey, el Ayto. de Southwark y University Arts London (UAL) para la construcción del nuevo proyecto. Todos ellos tienen control absoluto sobre el contrato; no han sido forzados a firmarlo. Han decidido paralizar el acuerdo al ser demandados en los tribunales.

Elephant JR Tweet

Lea más sobre RETRASOS Y DELANCEY (en inglés) – 35percent.org/2019-06-15-delays-and-delancey/

Ponte en contacto con nosotros y sigue Up The Elephant:

http://35percent.org/

@UpTheElephant_

Facebook – ‘Up The Elephant’

 

 

Why the ‘Up The Elephant’ Campaign is going for a Judicial Review

The post below is the text of a leaflet that Up The Elephant community campaign is currently giving to all traders in the Elephant Shopping Centre to tell them why we are going for a Judicial Review (JR) of Delancey’s housing plans for the area. It’s a direct response to this tweet from Stephanie Cryan, Southwark Council’s Cabinet Member for Jobs, Business and Innovation where she made an unnecessary PR opportunity with some of the traders. If traders are worried about the forthcoming JR then we hope to set their minds at rest and to point the finger directly back to Delancey. We support all traders in the Shopping Centre and the Campaign is accountable to all traders through our monthly meetings! JR not PR!

Cryan JR PR

DELAYS AND DELANCEY –

Elephant & Castle
Shopping Centre Myth Buster

Elephant JR Tweet

Delancey have been blaming the forthcoming legal challenge mounted by local campaigners Up The Elephant for delays to the redevelopment of the shopping centre and the relocation of the traders. We answer Delancey below.

Delancey Says: The Judicial Review (JR) is delaying the development

We Say: Delancey’s refusal to provide enough social housing is what is causing any delay. Delancey did not have real social rented housing in its original planning application in 2016.   Local people and traders had to fight Delancey for TWO YEARS to get social housing; we got some, but there still is not enough. Delancey have forced us to continue our fight in the courts –Delancey is causing the delay.

Delancey Says: The Judicial Review is delaying relocation of traders.

We Say: Nothing is stopping Delancey from helping relocate traders, despite the JR. Some traders have already been relocated to Perronet House. Traders have also been allocated space in Castle Sq. This was space won by Elephant Traders Association, Latin Elephant and the Up the Elephant campaign. But many traders are being left out. We are fighting with traders to get more retail space on Sayer St, owned by developer Lendlease. Southwark Law Centre has taken up the case on traders’ behalf.

Delancey Says: The Judicial Review means money from the relocation fund cannot be spent

We Say: There would be no relocation fund if campaigners had not demanded it. Nothing stops Delancey from spending this money to help traders relocate, despite the JR. The relocation fund is part of the relocation strategy. Delancey had no relocation strategy in its original planning application in 2016 and refused to have one until it got planning permission in 2018, leaving traders insecure and without any way to plan for the future of their businesses. The fund has only £634,700.

 

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June 2019 – Castle Square planned box park thing currently not being built vs the Delancey vision


Delancey Says:
The Judicial Review is delaying Castle Square

We Say: No. Castle Square is a different development with a different legal s106 agreement. Delancey can build it as soon as it likes. Delancey had no proposals for a temporary space for traders in its original planning application. Castle Square was won by traders and local people after two years of battle.

Delancey Says: The Judicial Review has ‘frozen’ the s106 Agreement

We Say: The legal s106 agreement is a voluntary contract for the delivery of the redevelopment between Delancey, Southwark Council and the University of the Arts London (UAL). They have complete control of this; they were not forced to sign it. They decided to freeze the agreement if they were challenged in court.

(A Spanish language version of this leaflet is coming soon!)


Read 35% Campaign’s full account here on the Elephant Shopping Centre and Delancey  DELAYS AND DELANCEY:

“To sum up, we have little doubt that had Delancey presented the improved scheme that it presented to the planning committee on 3 July 2019 at the very first scheduled planning committee meeting, back on 18 December 2017, it would have been approved and any legal challenge long resolved. Delancey could then have saved the crocodile tears it is currently shedding on behalf of the traders.”


 

 

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