A DIFFERENT STRATA

A DIFFERENT STRATA

JANUARY 21st 2011 – At Southwark Notes, we wonder how many times have you read this phrase in the newspaper property pages – ‘the £1.5 billion regeneration of the The Elephant and Castle‘? We must have read this about a thousand times and with the recent arrival of Strata Tower, we’ve been reading it more and more often. Seeing as The Elephant has been declared a property ‘ultra-hotspot‘ by website Property Investing, it’s no wonder that this tired phrase is always attached to any article, developer’s blurb or estate agent’s ad. All the changes and the fortunes to be made are all being sold on the much fabled multi-million pound ‘regeneration‘. Here it comes. A bit slow and slightly grey at the edges but whoopee!

StrataGate?

If you were to look for a symbol of what ‘regeneration‘ might mean in The Elephant area, there would be no better clash than the literal face-off between Heygate Estate and Strata Tower. On the one hand, you have a massive Council estate and the on the other a massive shiny and new Tower with turbines on top. Heygate is written about in the past tense now and Strata is the future. Heygate is now neatly packaged up as as series of myths about what a crime-ridden, sink estate labyrinth it was and this tale enables the scandalous decant that happened there to be wiped away. Strata, on the other hand, is ‘the most dashing new development to date in the 170 acre Elephant and Castle regeneration zone’ or it’s ‘the high life in Elephant & Castle‘.

Ourselves, we are uninterested in poking a sharp stick at the Strata turbines or whether some architects awarded it the Carbuncle Cup. This is of no use to use here in The Elephant. What we are interested in is pointing out that fancy-pants towers with million pound penthouses on the top is not a serious part of a local ‘regeneration scheme‘ if at the same time, the removal of housing, open spaces and amenities previously enjoyed by a more settled population is what it costs to encourage developers to build here. Having looked into the increasingly useless LendLease’s proposals we can see that already affordable housing, the promised Town Square park, the Musco (Multi Utility Service Company) and local shops are all either seriously forgotten about or have just been more and more squeezed out the regeneration plans. Former Council leader Nick Stanton trumpeted in May 2009 – “We have now, set up MUSCo, a multi-utility services company which will deliver a low carbon infrastructure to over 6,000 new homes and businesses across the entire Elephant & Castle regeneration area. Carbon neutral heating, electricity, water and IT will all be delivered to homes as the regeneration rolls out, and design development and the first stages of implementation have already begun. The MUSCo will help the council achieve significant carbon positive targets as the infrastructure is extended to other estates“. One of the local estates would have been the Aylesbury, now reeling as a result of losing all public funding for their own slightly sketchy regeneration / gentrification programme. The irony now is how former US President Bill Clinton Climate Iniative recognises the E+C regeneration as ‘one of 16 founding projects of the Climate Positive Development Program that will support the development of large-scale urban projects that demonstrate cities can grow in ways that are “climate positive.”’

LENDLEASE YOUR EARS FOR A MOMENT

LendLease’s idea of consultation is pretty clueless so far. They seem intent on ‘listening to stakeholders‘ but does that mean that stakeholders will actually have some say in what lands in the LendLease development masterplan? It’s easy to listen. Whether you then take into account what you’ve heard is another thing altogether! They don’t really have to do much more than show, as a legal requirement, that they have done some consultation when they offer up their E+C Masterplan application at the end of 2011.

It’s also worth reminder people that the LendLease core area of the Heygate and Shopping Centre site is only the middle ring of the target. Outside that footprint is the wider Elephant and Castle ‘Opportunity Area’, basically a large part of The Elephant and Walworth that is promoted by The Council as up for grabs (i.e by more private developers such as those who built Strata).

 

COMMUNITY RIP-OFF IN PROGRESS

We have already gone on at length about the decade long series of lies, manipulations and shoddy dealings that has characterised the slow decant of Heygate tenants to other parts of the Borough. We won’t labour the point again here. Only 6 former residents of the Heygate decided to move into the ‘affordable‘ housing portion of Strata despite the Council’s trumpeting that homes were were being provided for and taken up by ex-Heygate tenants. When the idea that ‘affordable’ housing means a part-buy, part-rent shared ownership scheme in a new private development we know we have come a long way from the reasonable rents and secure tenancies enjoyed by Heygate tenants.

 

For Heygate leaseholders, many have complained that spitefully low valuations made on their places by the Council mean they are unable to move to a similar property locally that’s up to the standard and space of the houses they had purchased on Heygate. This is why a few leaseholders there are refusing to be intimidated out of the homes for the sake of freeing up the land for more private and expensive housing to be built in The Elephant. Good luck to them, we say. Hold your ground.

 

In a move to hassle them out, the new Labour administration in power in Southwark continue the previous Lib-Dem’s bullying of these leaseholders. They have no heating, hot water, postal delivery and minimal security.

 

WHAT THEY MEAN BY ‘OPPORTUNITY’

We read that when the Strata flats were being sold off-plan (before they were finished being built), 75% of the sales were to private investors. That means people who want to make some money from the property as opposed to actually wanting to live in it. With the credit crisis, an approximate 50% of investors who had bought there were expected to live there. With the average selling price for a 2 bedroom Strata flat being £450,000, it’s not too difficult to see that a better off class of person is moving in. It’s hard to write about this process because it sounds like we are being very vindictive against individuals who choose to move here. That is not our intention. Our motivation is to point out that the tendency to increasing gentrification is obviously the result of those new arrivals and the demand for Zone 1/2 Georgian or Victorian terraces in Walworth or luxury flats like Strata, Printworks, South Central West etc. This is not some hidden secret process revealed from our consultation at the Southwark Notes crystal ball. You can read this in the papers – ‘Strata’s ideal resident is an altogether wealthier breed of pioneering urbanaut in this windswept corner of SE1‘.

Or this – ‘As the vanguard for gentrification in the area, Strata tower wears its social conscience well: 25% of 408 apartments are earmarked for sustainable housing and 20 of those will be taken by residents of Heygate estate‘. We wonder what ‘sustainable‘ housing is? A house that doesn’t fall down? Aside from the overestimation of how many Heygate folks moved to Strata, the fact that Strata was given planning permission by the Council with zero socially rented apartments is hardly a glowing social conscience.

 

Here is another report – ‘For ages, it looked as though gritty ‘Sarf’ inner-city neighbourhoods such as Walworth…were going nowhere…however things are shifting as these locations start to benefit from the overspill of gentrified areas and more new homes are built…having rented in Notting Hill, Tom, a financial research editor and Lucy who works in corporate communications decamped to Walworth‘.

 

Welcome Tom and Lucy to Southwark – the 26th most deprived borough in England (of 354), ranked as the 18th most deprived borough in England on the income scale – Index of Multiple Deprivation, 2007

 

Finally for this rant, here is the story of Nathan, a new arrival to the area and a Strata resident. For some reason, Nathan was able to feature in The Standard with a picture of himself in colour, complaining that his new flat was ‘too hot’ – ‘Resident Nathan Wheelhouse said: “When I left my house the other morning it was 28C at 7.30am — it’s tropical in there. The cold and hot water pipes flow next to each other. I feel like I’m in an eco experiment that has gone wrong at the design stage. I only moved in two weeks ago and I am not enjoying it.”’.

Nathan, Southwark Notes heart bleeds for you as I suspect do the hearts of Heygate leaseholder living with no heating and hot water. Welcome to The Elephant!