It’s been a big fight again at The Elephant but it’s been a fantastic united effort of organising against the disastrous plans for the area. Local people, students, traders and other groups have come together to try and put a stop to the violent social cleansing of the area. As we’ve said before, The Elephant Shopping Centre is the very heart of the area and it’s a place of getting your shopping done whilst making vital social interactions with shop-owners and friends alike.
All of us who have come together under the Up The Elephant campaign recognise what a terrible loss to the Shopping Centre will be. For us, we can’t eat luxury flats and we don’t want to lose the myriad of small businesses to a sterile plaza of Café Nerro, Wagamama or Foxtons! We are demanding for The Elephant genuinely affordable homes, guaranteed protection for small traders and keeping the Bingo. In January 2018 we managed to get the planning permission for the scheme adjourned so that the Council and developers would have to start taking onboard our demands. Seeing as the ‘there is no alternative’ Council has recommended that the scheme by given permission, this was no uncertain victory along the way for what we want for our community!
Actually Existing Local People!!
On Saturday morning again, we were part of a campaign stall talking to users of the Shopping Centre and precious few of the hundred or so people we talked to were in favour of the development plans for 100’s of unaffordable flats and the loss of what makes the Shopping Centre so great – its soul and its sense of community.
But it has only been through the efforts of Up The Elephant that any of the plans have been changed at all. Peter John, Southwark Council leader, has remained silent on how on the question of housing Delancey has been forced by us to include more social rented homes in the plans. Instead of seeing the community in action (and with help from some local councillors) as a leverage and a pressure on the developers for a better deal, his only recent comment has been how he thought that ‘on balance – and it was always an ‘on balance’ view – that the offer was good enough’. That ‘offer’ was originally only 33 social rented homes out of a total of 979 – that would be about 3% homes in any way affordable to the local community! In the same interview he talks about his belief in ‘old-fashioned municipal socialism’. Yes, we support free school meals and free swimming for local residents but municipal socialism was never about demolishing council homes (see Aylesbury Estate!) or not even understanding the basic effects or more and more overpriced developments in poor areas like The Elephant.
The London College of Complicity
It is only recently that campaigners have been highlighting the role of local London College of Communication (LCC) in this development plan. LCC, a part of the University of The Arts London (UAL) group of art schools, is a development partner with Delancey, the shadowy offshore and tax-avoiding developer behind the whole Elephant scheme. What UAL/LCC seeks to gain is a new campus on the site of the Shopping Centre once it is demolished.
Now, no-one is saying that nothing should ever change and everything should always stay the same and so the local campaigns are not against a new campus for the LCC but not at such a cost to the local area. But UAL and LCC management have been spectacularly bad at being in any way accountable to the local community they have been part of for over 50 years. Natalie Brett, Head of London College of Communication and Pro Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts London essentially gave the same ‘woe-is-us’ speech at a Community Council meeting and a meeting organised by the Walworth Society with Delancey. At no point in her speech did she recognise any of the community’s concerns nor did she even make direct reference to those concerns. Instead she warbled on about how shabby the LCC campus is and how they are desperate for a new campus.
In February 2018 in a public relations response forced by all the pressure the campaigns were bringing down on LCC, she wrote: ‘We welcome the agreement from Southwark Council’s planning committee to defer the final planning decision to enable further discussions to take place to address key issues and concerns raised by Councillors and local community stakeholders’. However in another interview published in a recent LCC publication she describes how she is ‘not very happy in the way it turned out because I think there was so much noise going on about the concerns here, that there wasn’t enough opportunity for the benefits of the project to come through’.
Natalie Brett seems happy to remain sceptical about the strength of local opposition and from this point onwards, LCC retreated away again from hosting any actual public engagement with local people who could be invited in for a genuine dialogue with LCC as a long-term part of the local area. All that has happened is that Delancey opened up a shop front in the Shopping Centre where fancy displays and leaflets can only demonstrate to us what we already know – that the scheme still isn’t good enough for us! So far none of the Up The Elephant campaigns have been invited to discuss their concerns directly with LCC management. Maybe we are simply too noisy for Natalie Brett?
The College even has the large LCC Studio space on the First Floor of the Shopping Centre where they could host dynamic conversations about the plans with the campaigns and local people. There have been one or two exhibitions held by LCC there that feature different takes on issues of regeneration but nothing truly reaching out to the local community and asking for their opinions, good or bad!
London College of Communication in Consultation Mode
We are aware that there have been formal meetings with staff about redevelopment at LCC. There was a drop-in consultation meeting at LCC for staff in the last months where Delancey did their latest pitch showing how they had improved the social housing offer in response to local pressure. Members of staff could ask Delancey questions at this. Staff have also been encouraged to go and look at plans in Shopping Centre.
A member of staff told us:
“Its been quite strange the way the college management and staff seem to be handling the whole redevelopment thing. I mean the declining Elephant and its estates has been in loads of projects by staff and students over the years – so there’s been interest and they have been critical I think, but now its like there’s a disconnect. I think the union has tried to raise the issue. There was a meeting a while ago last year maybe, there were some people from the Elephant campaigns there who did a talk. But it seemed to go quiet after that. I don’t know what happened. Or maybe its like people think the College doesn’t have responsibility towards social justice at a local level – its just something to say in brochures and student projects!
I did hear that some staff were being encouraged by the management to sign some developers petition, which seemed really bizarre. And some staff tweeting the petition out I think! I don’t know if that’s true, I didn’t get asked. The view from higher up seems to be that its all down to the Council about the development, the college is just a trying to get a building to do right by its staff and students. That’s what I’ve heard at the big all staff meetings. I think privately and amongst themselves a lot of people don’t think its right. So I wonder if people are a bit scared to be more vocal. One of the union leaders at LCC a few years ago who wouldn’t let management get away with anything, lost his job. People don’t want to be targets and are worried about their jobs. It would be like taking on the management and not just LCC but UAL. There is a lot hanging on the new building, for the head I expect as well. Its a big machine UAL.”
We were very grateful to hear an insiders view on goings on at LCC and are always happy to give an anonymous platform for any staff or students at LCC to voice their concerns about the role of the College in these shonky development plans. (email@example.com – or by post or hand to: Southwark Notes c/o 56a Infoshop, 56 Crampton St, SE17 3AE)
The Students Will Have Their Say
As part of the increasing pressure being put on LCC / UAL, there has been quite a robust campaign from students from the College and from other UAL campuses such as Central St Martins in Kings Cross and Chelsea College. The students initiated their own Stop The Elephant Development campaign back in January with an occupation of the LCC right before the Council’s planning committee meeting on January 30th. Since then they have also made a feisty intervention at the opening night of the LCC large ‘Capital City’ exhibition in April and another one at the opening of LCC degree shows in May: ‘A group of us from Stop the Elephant Development stormed the event, disrupting it for over 2 hours at the peak of the event despite a heavily increased security and bag searches. Occupying the space, a number of us had brilliant conversations with attendees of the event, including students who exhibited and members of the public. Significantly, Jeremy Till Head of Central St Martins chose to tell the ArtsSU Campaigns Officer that as a student union officer she should be ashamed of herself and that the action was “disgusting and pathetic just like the idiot students who partake in this nonsense”, before refusing to answer why UAL continues to ignore the demands of the community and UAL students and workers’.
The intervention at the Capital City opening was interesting as the LCC show was about highlighting ‘the relationship between money and property in London and its affects on all lives’. We saw the show and the intervention and it was a perfect companion to students work on display that did bring attention to the LCC role in gentrification amongst other topics and themes. Students from Stop The Elephant Development made some good points in a decent exchange with a LCC lecturer on Twitter: ‘Exhibitions need to be active spaces that create new ways of speaking to each other and organising how we work together – as well as drawing attention to issues and debates…This is a common problem with (often v worthy) university projects when they are conducted without the engagement of communities in knowledge production: the gaze often goes one way; the knowledge produced is abstracted or moralised rather than directly political’.
The accompanying Capital City booklet did contains good pieces from staff and students on how such speculation and development (such as LCC and Delanceys) is making life increasingly harder for many and increasingly desperate for the many marginalised communities in London. It’s a shame that such criticism of the LCC can seemingly only be reserved for exhibitions but no actual feedback or dialogue is invited into management there to hear from staff, students or local campaigns. The student campaign has however been meeting with different Up The Elephant people since January and we’ve had some good critical exchanges.
One student said to us: ‘As a student paying thousands of pounds to study here over the past few years, its been difficult to comprehend that the university management’s attitude and behaviour over the last year has been real and not some surreal waking nightmare. Even looking beyond the heavy-handed security and harassment of staff and students, it’s the sheer arrogance and the contempt with which the university appears to view students, staff and local residents that has been most difficult to comprehend. Claiming to need to remain in Elephant and Castle to support the very community that these plans will inevitably tear apart is a kick in the face. Desperate straw clutching it may well be, but people are afraid to speak out. My involvement in the campaigns has been quietly praised, but on several occasions I’ve been warned with sincerity, “keep a low profile, jeopardise your degree”. It has become an increasingly surreal and aggressive atmosphere and the university’s management can’t bury their heads in the sand forever – students and staff deserve answers and people like Natalie Brett need to be held accountable for their lies and false promises‘.
Other students actions have also been happening at other UAL campuses such as student meetings and banner displays against UAL involvement in social cleansing.
‘Up The Elephant’ Campaign
Up The Elephant has been gearing up again in recent weeks with the expectation that the Elephant Shopping Centre application will go back to Planning Committee in July. The campaigns have written an Open Letter to Natalie Brett and UAL signed by 20 local community groups, tenants and residents associations and others. In the letter the basic demands are outlined again:
• 35% real affordable housing made up of half social rent and half London Living rent, with secure tenancies. This must include a commitment that the Planning Committee will sign off any new S106 deal and that the affordable housing composition cannot be reduced at a later date.
• A relocation or compensation deal for all traders with a traders panel set up. Affordable units should be provided at 40% of market rates (as per policy) with temporary units available for everyone whilst the development is underway, rent free for 1st year. £100-250k compensation should be provided for any trader forced to relocate. This should include all traders within red line of the plan, from market stalls to shops, kiosks and stands. And commitment for a right to return.
• Bingo and bowling remain. Delancey’s removal of the Palatial Leisure facility disproportionately affect older people and people of colour which we believe to be a breach of the Equality Act 2010. Affordable leisure facilities are essential for a neighbourhood to thrive, as such, any redevelopment must reinstate the facilities at the heart of our community.
Up The Elephant has also called a noise-making community protest to gather our forces for Thursday 21st June where we can stand up for The Elephant. We welcome all and any who don’t want to see the ruin of what we love about our area to come and join the protest. We will be highlighting LCC / UAL’s role in social cleansing by assembling the protest outside their front doors at 6pm! Be there and fight for what you want in your community.