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.
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.
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.
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!
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!?
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.
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:
- Commit Delancey to an increase of the relocation fund.
- Provide transparency and parity between the rent and service charge costs of the relocation options to bring them into line with each other.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ensure that the independent business adviser, Tree Shepherd, applies the agreed criteria for the allocation of relocation spaces in a fair and transparent way.
- Ensure that the database of opportunities reflects what was agreed on the approval of planning permission.
- Prevent closure of the Shopping Centre until the traders have been relocated or have accessed a suitable level of compensation.
CHICKENS NOT VULTURES