The point we will labour below is that community benefits that come from agreements between developers and the Council have to make sense and be a tangible, enduring and worthwhile local resource. Siting a new playground in an estate undergoing decant is frankly nonsensical but it does kind of seem to us like just more craziness in a long and infamously crazy regeneration saga.
Cast your regeneration minds back to as far as late December 2007 when all was optimistic down at the numerous empty development sites dotted around The Elephant. You may recall that the Oakmayne Plaza site was asking the Council for a new planning permission based on dumping the fancy hotel tower component of their mega-scheme in favour of a tower of student flats instead. Alongside this change was also the dumping of any affordable social housing from the scheme:
Not that the affordable component amounted to much any how but the 5 units pre-2007 were snipped now back to zero units. In lieu of cheaper housing for local people ironically a cash payment to the Council was promised to help along the promised Early Housing Sites for decanted Heygate tenants. So that was a lot of good as the houses simply weren’t built in time for the decant anyhow and very few people subsequently returned to the new Housing Association homes!
Anyhow we digress. To make up for the loss of the children’s playground on Elephant Rd park which was taken away one sunny weekday morning (see above) and as part of the incentive to get the Council to agree the changes, Oakmayne arranged for the new playground to be built on Heygate Estate to make up for the loss of the old one. (The whole park being robbed from local people a few years later – see here!).
Of course, plonking down a new playground there is also of dubious merit. It seemed that no questions had been asked about why a playground in Elephant Park is more accessible and useful to a wider community than one just put where any other patch of trees and grass happened to be. That the playground was not solely for the use of Heygate tenants but the wider Elephant area was fudged completely by the siting of the replacement playground. By choosing to ignore the organic fabric that the community weaves by everyday use of open spaces, parks and playgrounds and instead operating from a mentality of false ‘like for like’, it seemed more of a case of ‘well, that’ll do!’ for the locals!
All that remains is this somewhat poignant and lonely roundabout:
Worth bearing in mind that the decant and slow boarded up and walling off of the Heygate estate has meant the loss of three local playgrounds – the one above in the middle of the estate and these two:
Playground in the old Heygate site North of above Rodney Rd grilled up pre-demolition 2011. The developer got the local school kids to paint some pics to put up on the hoarding that encloses their old playground!
We write up this ancient history just to make the point that as local people we not only know what is going on in our area and what amenities and resources we rely on but we also know that developers have no real knowledge or understanding of what makes up our local area and the communities that need things such as playgrounds or open spaces for football or just plain relaxing.
At Southwark Notes, like The Elephant itself, we never forget and we are happy to pull out an old document or two full of promises from the Council and different developers and say ‘Hey, wait a minute – what happened to this promise and what happened to that one?!‘. We said it before and in Southwark it’s vital that we keep on saying it – Regeneration has to be truly accountable to local people.
Promises are often made on the backs of a sense of trust and good will from local people to lose something like a playground or park and to wait for the intended redevelopment to put back what was lost. Accountability means that decisions and promises are kept to the word and not just lost along the way as the developers claw more and more profits from high density developments built on former public parks and playgrounds. It’s up to us to keep them to their word.