Tag Archives: Gentrification

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?

DELANCEY New Public Space Arches

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.

Elephant RD Plans Southwark Council.jpg

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.

EC RED LINES-6

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.

guardians-of-the-arches_parliament_group-1400x500_c

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.

Elephant Rd 1940 1
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.

Elephant Rd 1940s 2

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.

ELEPHANT RD PARK OLDELEPHANT RD DEMO 2013 1
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.

Elephant Rd Corsica Distriandina March 2019.jpg
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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The Curious Case of The Heygate Estate, Hej Coffee And A Hey Presto!

As ‘people who sit in the dark typing things by themselves’, we are happy to shine a light on the real and marvelous history of The Curious Case of Hej Coffee and The Heygate Photo.

At the start of August we received our usual public relations updates from multinational property developer, profiteer and demolisher of the Heygate Estate, Lend Lease, with exciting ongoing news about their new development Elephant Park. This time there was an Elephant Park video promoting the new Hej Coffee shop on Rodney Rd. Hej Coffee is part of the new blocks where the old Wingrave blocks of Heygate Estate had been. Ok, but that’s how it works? – Lend Lease promote a new café to advertise their new development and the café promo talks about the new development to promote Lend Lease and their cafe. They are joined at the hip. Ok, that’s not sinister. It’s just business doing its thing. Marketing, selling, profiting or hoping to profit. However…

 

WHITEWASHING?

The video is fronted by Joanna, a black barista working at Hej Coffee (pronounced Hey! as in Hey-gate!). At the time we commented that although we had ‘massive respect to Joanna as a local worker’, it was ‘utterly tragic the actual disconnect between the words and the pictures in the promo video and the actual reality of the social cleansing of The Elephant’. By disconnect we meant that the script of the video talks about the customers being ‘diverse’, ‘variety’, ‘all sorts of people’, ‘everyone’s different’ but actually everyone in the video wasn’t different or diverse but were all white 20-somethings. So it’s a typical whitewashing of a local London area that is a massively mixed and great community. In Heygate’s hey day it even had about 3000 working class people living around where the Hej Cafe stands.

Cafe Manor Place Holal

This isn’t the first time this goes on locally and probably won’t be the last. In fact, this week Notting Hill Housing who are developing the Manor Place depot site put up hoardings with very much more of the same – a barren but stylishly chic café with only white people in it and yet bearing the text ‘Hola!’ and three spicy chillis! You could argue that these regeneration images are just identikit nonsense, badly thought through or you could argue that’s it’s deliberate. We edge towards the latter.

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(Customers from the Hej Coffee promo video)

 

Of course, it’s not our argument that we want a more inclusive gentrification! Gentrification will only ever be exclusive along class and race lines – that’s how it works. Black people rarely get ‘included’ in these ‘indicative CGI’ pictures of forthcoming developments because images of smug white coffee slurpers are used to sell the new-builds to exactly those smug white coffee slurpers. Creating a terrain of whiteness means that these hoardings are like all those other unsubtle codes that racialise everyday life – white people indicate safety, white people indicate networking and getting on, upward mobility, white people indicate taste and style, beauty and desirability. To be honest, it’s sickening. So, this was our first criticism directed at Hej Coffee.

 

Hej Orignal Photo

ARTWASHING?

A few days later we heard that Hej Coffee had put on its wall a large artistic photo of the Heygate Estate as part of the décor. It’s a pretty photo, carefully taken in 2010, a symmetrical presentation of an empty estate. Hej Coffee was very proud of the photo and Tweeted out its installation in the café by the picture’s taker Simon Kennedy, an architectural photographer and lecturer at University College of London’s Bartlett school.

As people who were heavily involved in the last years of the struggles against the demolition of Heygate we wondered what it meant for a new café, an intimate part of the gentrification of the area, to want to display a photo of the Heygate albeit one especially chosen for its abstracted sense of the estate blocks. So we dropped some lines to Hej Coffee about this saying things like ‘don’t think many customers understand the long messy and scandalous history of the demolition of the Heygate. It’s certainly not a good look for the Hej cafe. Bit insensitive given that the Heygate scandal has not gone away for many local people’ and posting up photos we took in 2011 of the old Wingrave blocks.

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(Photos – From Heygate Estate to Hej Coffee 2008 – 2018)

 

Hej Coffee replies were never on the subject of the criticism and only about coming in for a coffee to chat about it. In fact the more we and then other people commented the more they made invites (with cute emojis) – ‘We need more people to come in to drink more coffee and know more things…not to be sitting in the dark typing things by themselves’. Nice one!

Hej Heygate Text on PhotoHej Text Heygate

Eventually they made a move and placed next to the Heygate photo two texts to try and give the photo some context and some rationale. These were a bit rich really and seemed to us as manly guff and wishful thinking – ‘Reverence for history is paramount at Hej, consequently we are open and honest about Heygate’s past. With your co-operation we would like to facilitate discussion and debate to benefit our community’. They also posted out a link to an article ‘Heygate Abstracted’ about Simon Kennedy’s Heygate photos where various ideas are mooted about what Kennedy’s images mean in relation to social housing and the scandal of the demolition – ‘Kennedy’s photographs emphasise the consequences of the painfully protracted if not perpetual contemporary ‘regeneration’ process which has left homes and shops conspicuously vacant for years on end’. Hej Coffee wrote ‘This should help everyone understand the context of the art we proudly display at our roastery’. (Here, we could be pedantic and ask: is the scandal really that those homes and shops were vacant for a long time, or is it rather that the diverse community that lived and worked there for 35 years were forced to vacate them, for no other reason than desire to sell-off the land and encourage privatised profit and a whiter, richer image for the area?)

HEJ FLYER

Anyhow, then it all becomes a bit confusing. Either Hej Coffee or someone else made a leaflet for a discussion night at Hej Coffee on Friday 7th September about Hej and the Heygate. This then caused another round of online back and forth. Hej Coffee said they hadn’t made the flyer but were happy for a discussion to go ahead.

 

AND THEN AS IF BY MAGIC – HEY PRESTO!

For us lot, although Simon Kennedy’s picture shows an empty estate and might therefore represent some kind of symbolic commentary on the political processes around the ‘regeneration’ and demolition of the Heygate buildings and community, we thought that there’s something less than sincere in the representation and in its display in a café that is only situated where it is because of that social cleansing process. Despite its neat portrayal of vacancy, at the time the photo was taken in 2010 there were still many households living on the estate and there was a huge range of people doing stuff in the estate’s public spaces to highlight it. We were there too being a part of the allotments, the film screenings, the public exhibitions on the scandal of the decant, the chicken keeping, hosting visits for school kids and students, leading anti-gentrification walks and supporting all the remaining residents in their struggle for decent rehousing or fair compensation.

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(Activities on Heygate Estate right up to the final eviction of the last resident, 2013)

 

So when Hej wants to contextualise their use of the image as a respectful memory we would question whether such an image devoid of the actual real tenants and residents functions in any such way but more appears as a done and dusted and historical artefact removed from any actual painful and still very real context. One Tweeter described Heygate as ‘still an open wound’ which is something we agree with and continue to do the work we do on this basis. We replied to Hej Coffee – ‘your Heygate photograph describes ‘a process that disassociates these buildings from their contentious histories, and any sense of domestic life’ yet when he took those photos residents were still living there and all sorts of public life was still going on for 3 more years. The community never gave up on the public and social side of the estate until the final eviction and enclosure. In fact that enclosure was resisted til the end. The Heygate photo you proudly display is both an abstraction and aestheticised erasure of that long community struggle. It would make more sense if you were genuinely concerned to remember the social housing of the Heygate by framing these displacement maps of where residents went. Displaced so Lend Lease could demolish their homes, build Elephant Park & you could rent a space for your coffee shop’. We also posted a photographs of their site that show the actual material history of what demolition and displacement looks like and how it’s experienced by many locals. Other critics were also piping up. Our friends at Vile Arrogance wrote ‘When posh coffee shops come to your neighbourhood and wanna debate ‘context’ about poor decisions of displaying an arty photo of the council estate they were built on top of…

Hej Heygate Gone

Any road up, were were umming and arrrghing about whether to go the event or not. We do not relish liberal dialogues in gentrified spaces where any anger or pointed criticism gets washed out by scene and setting. But on the day of the event, Hej Coffee took down the Heygate photo and wrote ‘whilst we never intended any offence or insensitivity by displaying art, we have listened to your comments and have taken the photo down’. It wasn’t any old ‘art’ that was seen as offensive and serving the politics of gentrification, but Hej Coffee could not at this point seem to bear to name it. Whatever! The Heygate photo was gone, decanted to some other unmapped place.

 

FINAL HEAVY HEAVY CONTEXT OF OUR OWN

By way of a small finale, we want to add some things in about gentrification, community and coffee shops. It would be a kind of foolishness to equate expensive coffee shops with some kind of enemy. Hej Coffee, like others appearing in the neighbourhood, are the product of gentrification and not the cause. Although we don’t particularly like the kind of expense, vibe and disposition of such places, it would be stupid to centre our entire political life on opposing them. Campaigns against ‘yuppies’ in the 80’s and against ‘hipsters’ now rarely have any potential for actual community organising and they seemingly don’t have much longevity! In the same weeks that this mini-soap opera was playing out with us, Hej Coffee and others, we were more usefully spending our time being part of the local campaigns against the demolition of the Shopping Centre and of the Aylesbury estate, because opposing these is opposing the much larger forces at play – that’s national and local government-supported gentrification dressed up as ‘regeneration’.

 

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(Latin@s from Boyle Heights protesting the Weird Wave Coffee Shop, 2017)

 

Having said this, there are many communities in the world who are militantly against the arrival of gentrifying businesses as they are part of the signal that it’s okay for developers and speculators to colonise ever greater chunks of our cities for their bloody-minded profit-seeking schemes, while low-income residents get stomped over or cast aside. In Boyle Heights in L.A, a Latin@ neighbourhood with a decades long struggle for public housing and against the social and ethnic cleansing of their area, parts of that community are targeting new business such as cafes or art galleries that are a sign of the violent gentrification of their area. Those struggles are enacted by a community that recognises itself as such – as poor and as Latin@ – and who are fighting from the basis of that self-identification.

We would say that in London the debate and action around these questions has not been so clear. Of course, it’s London and not L.A and each anti-gentrification struggle is different but it would be good to see some discussion here about how to think and link different parts of the ‘regeneration’ process – global development and real estate, investment and construction, demolition and displacement with the ‘uplifting’ of areas, luxury flats and more expensive shops, lifestyle values and displays. But let’s not mistake one for the other. White coffee slurpers have little power over any of this, the same as the rest of us. We need to be clear also that many (but not all) people living in gentrifying areas are likely to be as precarious in their housing situation (low wages and expensive rents), even in new developments like Elephant Park. Then of course, there are the rich folks buying into the area and so what role do they play? So far, locally, they do not really organise as a lobby to boost more ‘regeneration’ although London is seeing a rise of Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) groups who are dubious in their support for more and more new gentrifying developments.

Elephant Crowd 2108

In The Elephant, the community campaigns have not been making clear demands to new more upscale businesses partly because this probably reflects it being an unresolved issue within London’s wider anti-gentrification campaigns. Partly, locally, this is out of sheer tiredness with keeping up with everything going on in the area. Maybe it’s because the carrot of a Labour government dulls a bit the fact that we actually want a whole lot more than just percentage peanuts of social rented homes? Partly again there is still over politeness to politicians, be they councilors or The Mayor. There have been attempts to make a Neighbourhood Plan of our area and that would enable us to make decisions about what kind of things we want to keep and what kind of things we want to see invested in around The Elephant. All good stuff but its slow work! One thing for sure though is that without thinking through and being clear on the above and if we aren’t clear about how to take on gentrifying businesses head on in line with our vision for the area, we will wake up in a whitewashed bland-o-rama!

 


LOLZ…

Hej Blocked

more LOLZ…on the old Heygate site…and that is why we keep going on about it!!

Heygate House Price Aug 2018

LEDBURY ESTATE: Community’s amazing fight for safe homes

Southwark Notes members have been following the rapid-changing news from Ledbury Estate, down on the Old Kent Rd for a while. We were happy to meet some residents back in July after they invited us for a chat. We also attended the residents delegation to the July Council meeting where they put forward their ten demands to Southwark. We wanted to write something about the amazing campaign they all been waging for safe and secure homes but pressing time never allowed us to put pen to paper!

Then, this week, the excellent Radical Housing Network has asked us to host this text about the ongoing  struggle at Ledbury which we are happy to do so. Here at Southwark Notes HQ we don’t have much faith in Labour but appreciate the energies and arguments of all those working with Ledbury residents in their campaign.

This week Ledbury residents demanded that Southwark Council’s Cabinet Member for a Housing and Deputy Leader Stephanie Cryan should resign. You can join that call here!

Support Ledbury residents:
ledburyactiongroup@gmail.com
Ledbury Action Group – @LedburyAction


LEDBURY ESTATE:
Community’s amazing fight for safe homes

Two months after Grenfell, 224 families in Southwark high-rises are preparing to be evacuated. No fire. Just the discovery that their blocks are completely unsafe.

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It was a 12th floor resident, in the wake of Grenfell, who raised the alarm about ‘compartmentation’. She sent pictures of the cracks in her walls direct to the Fire Brigade, sparking a chain of events which overturned the findings of all the council’s previous fire risk assessments and structural surveys. 24-hour fire wardens were put in place until the cracks could be sealed. But residents invited independent experts to continue investigating and this week the council finally confirmed their findings – that gas should never have been installed on the blocks. The independent surveyors also say it’s not possible now to make the structures safe but the council insists it will do so, and have costed this work at 100 million, apparently even before they have their own surveyors final report.

ledbury big cracks

A bombshell letter was delivered to tenants announcing that the blocks were the same as the Ronan Point blocks which collapsed killing 4 people 50 years ago; that the gas was going to be turned off immediately; and everyone moved out within weeks. Residents asked for a meeting with council leaders but they refused. They are on holiday.

For residents who feel angry, betrayed and abandoned it’s not hard to see the similarities with Grenfell. Another estate run down prior to ‘regeneration’. Residents continually reporting problems being fobbed off by contemptuous officials, and cracks literally papered over. Years of poorly managed work by subcontractors. Fire risk assessments that failed to deal with risks. And still the ingrained methods of disrespecting council tenants prevail.

A resident who asks about moving to a hotel is told haughtily that they can apply but they’ shouldn’t expect The Ritz’. Gas workers are instructed to break into people’s homes to cap their gas pipes without giving any notification.

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Council tenants have come to expect being treated badly. From Thatcher’s Right to Buy to the 2016 Housing & Planning Act, governments have attacked the ‘privilege’ of council housing for working class people and tried to force through privatisation, higher rents and less secure tenancies. Global speculators and developers made billions but for the rest of us, in private as well as public, there’s been rising rents, increased insecurity and homelessness, overcrowding and more substandard housing. A process for which Grenfell tower stands as testament.

The Tories have no interest in reversing this process but could this be a turning point for Labour? Southwark have been responding to some of the residents’ demands. They claim they want the estate to stay council and that leaseholders shouldn’t lose out. But they are also trying to manage residents’ expectations rather than defy the government’s spending or borrowing limits. They say they can’t afford to buy more flats immediately and that if they demolish they can’t afford to rebuild it as council housing. So tenants begin to weigh the risk of staying in dangerous blocks as preferable to moving into properties with vastly higher rents and losing their council tenancies, or moving out of their community altogether.

When the council refuses to guarantee tenants will be rehoused locally in good quality council homes it is creating an atmosphere of fear, setting people in competition with each other, and preying on feelings of powerlessness to make people accept anything for fear of losing everything.

 

ledbury mtg grass

So it comes down to the residents who are organizing themselves. On Sunday, after meeting on the green to draw up their demands, tenants marched to an empty new private development which has only 6% social housing. They do not believe the council cannot buy up these flats for council housing. They do not accept that the Government should not foot the bill. The residents are pointing the way and Labour in Southwark now have the opportunity to deliver.

by Grace Perry, Radical Housing Network

ledbury lux flats visit.jpg

ledbury west grove

Small and Further Heygate: Demolishing ‘Regeneration’ on Elmington Estate

Elmington Est Diagram New.jpg(Full size PDF of this graphic here)

Small and Further Heygate:
Demolishing ‘Regeneration’ on Elmington Estate, SE5           


346 Council Homes demolished

Seeing as the whole sorry tale of Southwark Council’s 20 year ‘regeneration’ of Elmington Estate is very long, we thought we would make it easier by summarising the most dastardly points in the above picture. Diehards can read the full 6000 words in a separate post here or print out it out as a PDF here. It is worth reading our fully illustrated nuts and bolts telling of the story all the way through as it shows, in detail, once again how long-term regeneration projects premised on demolition are really social cleansing schemes. The decant and re-housing processes are unjust and the Compulsory Purchase Order of leaseholders homes are legally punishing where no crime or wrong doing has been committed by those who were living on Elmington.

elmingtonestate
Elmington Estate ‘regeneration’ Phase One demolitions of the Tower Blocks, 2005

The telling of this story is also interesting in that it’s told almost 100% from the Council’s own consultation and progress documents. If the Council’s own telling of their regeneration scheme shows how appalling it is, it’s saying a lot, no? Yet in the same documents they also insist that everything is good and dandy for all! What’s clear once more, just like on Heygate and Aylesbury Estate, is that such ‘regenerations’ always result in a net loss of much needed local council housing – here 346 homes! They always result in the chucking out from the immediate area of long-term council tenants even though the ‘regeneration’ is supposed to benefit precisely them.

Time and time again we see that such ‘regenerations’ always have long histories of tenants saying repeatedly in protests and meetings with the Council, ‘we want to stay in the local area as council tenants‘. They always receive promises that this will be the case but these are always broken somewhere down the line by the Council despite mealy mouthed public assurances that ‘regeneration’ will benefit all – local communities and incoming private buyers. This is never the case. We have to start viewing regeneration as premised on lies. Regeneration is a big lie and the schemes are impossible to deliver without lies. This has been our experience every time. This is crucial for any new campaign against ‘regeneration’ to grasp at the very beginning.

Nearly As Good As Sherlock Holmes!

The Elmington story is, as yet, little known which is why we’ve spent a long time piecing it together. It starts all rosy with new Council homes built in Phase 1 but by Phase Two and Three, ‘regeneration’ simply means demolition of council housing and any replacement social housing delivered being unaffordable – shared ownership or ‘affordable rent’. The Council on the hand publicly attacks ‘affordable rent’ (rents up to 80% of local private rents) but on the other hand allows Notting Hill Housing Trust to build ‘affordable rent’ homes as the policy compliant ‘affordable homes’ component of Phase Two. Such demolition then means a displacement of tenants to other parts of the Borough and the displacement of leaseholders through both low valuations and a vicious Compulsory Purchase process.

elmington green twoElmington Estate, the name of the game! Elmington Green, mostly private homes built on top of demolished council flats

In the long years since the ‘regeneration’ started, the fact that hundreds of council homes were demolished is brushed under the carpet as the Council reneges or fails to provide a Right of Return for many of the households who signed up to the ‘regeneration’ on the premise of a new Council Homes on site. Despite the staggering initial loss of 369 council homes, the Council ten years later describes the empty land as a ‘brownfield site‘ and hence ripe for flogging off to developers. Those former homes are now magically absent as if they never existed, those tenants moved off to somewhere and non-existent too.

whodunnit copy

Although our long study of the highly dubious Elmington ‘regeneration’ sadly does not read as good as Sherlock Homes, there is something of a whodunnit about it. This is why we love to highlight once again this quote from Richard Livingstone, the (then) Southwark Cabinet Member for Housing in April 2015: ‘It is also worth noting that for every estate regeneration that has started since Labour took back control of the council (so this excludes Aylesbury and Heygate where the process started pre-2010) we have either retained the current stock or plan to increase the number of council homes’. This he said as the Phase Three Elmington demolitions and resulting loss of council homes were just about to start. Whodunnit indeed?

elmington demolish 5elmington demo view bellway
Elmington Estate ‘regeneration’ Phase Three demolitions of the maisonette blocks, 2016

In an exchange on November 22 2016 with Leader of the Council Peter John about the current demolition of council homes, we were surprised as ever by his claims. After, we pointed out that 144 homes were being demolished on Elmington and that no council homes were part of the scheme to re-house those displaced, his answer was the usual ill-informed one: ‘Council tenants prioritised for re-housing in better accommodation. New social housing delivered at Elmington’. We then pointed out that if less non-council social rented homes were built for rehousing folks then it wasn’t much of a priority. If 113 council homes are demolished and only 62 social rented homes are built, that’s a little bit less than 55% replacement. So where is the right of return to the area they agreed to leave for the other 45% of the community? The discussion went cold when we pointed out these facts and asked where people would go. Peter John said he ‘didn’t know and will look into it’. Five months later, we are still waiting for an answer. Whodunnit Peter? Magnifying glass is in the post to you!

Elephant Shopping Centre: The Time Is Now! Meeting Tues 28th Feb

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE ELEPHANT & CASTLE SHOPPING CENTRE?

The Shopping Centre is owned by property developer Delancey. It wants to demolish the Centre and build new shops and 900+ new homes in its place. But before Delancey can demolish the Centre it must get planning permission from the local council, Southwark. It must also get Southwark Council’s permission for any new buildings it wants to build.

Delancey gave Southwark its plans for the new shops and homes before Christmas. Delancey’s plans raise two big questions;

Will there be new shops for local traders?
Will there be new homes for local people?

Southwark Council is now asking what local traders and local residents think of Delancey’s plans and we must make our voices heard.

The Elephant Amenity Network is a group of local people that campaigns for a better deal from the Elephant’s regeneration. In this public meeting we invite all local people to discuss Delancey’s plans for the Shopping Centre – what we think of them and how we want them changed. We are being supported by the Southwark Green Party and other groups and campaigns.

The meeting will on Tuesday February 28th at 7pm

Venue: Tesco’s First Floor unit (above Tescos shop)

All are welcome – come and join us!

vision

Delancey’s plans for the shopping centre can be seen above. You can make comments here on our online form. It’s simple to use:

http://commentform.herokuapp.com/

ec-objection-form

Already there are detailed responses to Delancey’s plans most focusing on the plight of local traders in the Centre and market who are not being well looked after. Re-location strategies have not been forthcoming and only vague promises are being made (if at all), something we have seen across the entire Elephant regeneration project. Worth reading these objections from Southwark Green Party & Latin Elephant. They may give you some fine details to work with for your objections.

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The meeting has been organised by the Elephant Amenity Network’s 35% Campaign – http://35percent.org/

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¿QUE ESTARA PASANDO CON EL CENTRO COMERCIAL DE ELEPHANT & CASTLE?

El centro comercial es propiedad de los desarrolladores Delancey, quienes proponen demoler el centro y construir nuevas tiendas y residencias en su lugar.

Pero antes de la demolición del centro ellos deben obtener permiso de gobierno local de Southwark. También debe obtener de Southwark Council permiso para la construcción de nuevos edificios.

Delancey entregó sus planes para nuevas tiendas y residencias antes de Navidad. Los planes de Delancey resaltan dos preguntas importantes:

  • ¿Habrá nuevas tiendas para comerciantes locales?

  • ¿Habrá nuevas residencias para la gente local?

Southwark Council está preguntándole a comerciantes y residentes locales qué piensan sobre los planes de Delancey y debemos dejarles saber nuestro sentir, que nuestras voces se escuchen.

Elephant Amenity Network es un grupo de personas locales que llevan una campaña para obtener un mejor resultado de la regeneración de Elephant. En nuestra próxima reunión discutiremos los planes que Delancey tiene para el centro comercial – Qué pensamos y qué queremos cambiar. Nos apoya el partido ambientalista de Southwark (Southwark Green Party).

La reunión será a las Martes 28th febrero, 7pm

¿dónde? – TESCO Unidad de primer piso

Todos bienvenidos – les esperamos!

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Los planes de Delancey estan disponibles en

http://planbuild.southwark.gov.uk:8190/online-applications/simpleSearchResults.do;jsessionid=02EFEEFD01FBEF127FA1974DAC930F47?action=firstPage

Esta reunión organizada por Elephant Amenity Network’s 35% Campaign – http://35percent.org/


We Southwark Notes folks have written extensively about the fate of the Shopping Centre. Our most recent and top piece here: The Murder of The Elephant

Thurlow Lodge Centre, Aylesbury Estate Occupied

thurlow-lodge-folks
(Pic: Southwark News)

Thurlow Lodge Community Hall on Aylesbury Estate, Walworth is being defended by local users and groups after Southwark Council sought to close the well used space. Locals have began an occupation of the space and a meeting this week issued the following joint statement from Divine Rescue, the Thurlow Lodge occupation committee and Aylesbury new TRA steering group:

Save Divine Rescue and Thurlow Lodge Community Hall
Support the occupation of Thurlow Lodge!

Southwark Council intends to close or privatise Thurlow Lodge Community Hall and it has tried to evict homeless charity and foodbank Divine Rescue from Thurlow Lodge. This is both an attack on the homeless, disabled and poor clients of this charity and an attack on council tenants and residents on the Aylesbury Estate. By demolishing more than 2,000 council homes on the Aylesbury, the Council will create even more homeless people.

Our occupation, determined opposition and the support of trade unions, campaign groups and the wider tenants’ movement has forced the Council to row back on their eviction threats and attempts to close the hall. The Council now claims it never tried to close the hall in the first place! However, it is still considering legal action against Divine Rescue and it has put the prospect of privatisation on the table by saying that the hall will be put out to tender.

This is unacceptable. Tenants and residents on the Aylesbury are in the process of forming a new tenants’ and residents’ association which claims the right to manage this hall in the interests of the community, provide a secure home for Divine Rescue and fight for council housing for all. We are proud to state that the new TRA steering group has been offered the solidarity and assistance of experienced tenant reps in Southwark. We have every confidence that the new TRA will be able to successfully manage the hall and provide a full programme of events and activities. The new TRA is keen to work with the two remaining TRAs on the Aylesbury Estate to provide a genuine democratic voice for Aylesbury tenants and residents.

We demand that the Council recognise the Aylesbury new TRA as soon as it is set up. We demand that the Council lifts all threats of closure and privatisation and accepts that Divine Rescue can remain, on its current rent.   We call on Southwark Council to halt the demolition of the Aylesbury Estate and instead refurbish and properly maintain our council housing.

Signed, Thurlow Lodge occupation committee, Divine Rescue and Aylesbury new TRA

What you can do: Send a message of support, invite us to speak at your meeting:
thurlowlodgeoccupation@gmail.com  southwarkdch@gmail.com

For updates go to facebook southwark dch. 

Sign this petition

Join us in our programme of activities in defence of our TRA hall and Divine Rescue

Thurlow Lodge Community Hall
1 Thurlow Street, London, SE17 2US

Saturday 14th January 3pm – Solidarity Tea Party with music and fun. Bring union and campaign banners. Banner making workshop. All welcome including children.

Sunday 15th January 5:30pm – New TRA inaugural meeting. All Aylesbury tenants and residents welcome Followed by 6:30pm – Occupation meeting

 

Press Coverage:

South London Press
https://www.londonnewsonline.co.uk/14905/bailiffs-attempt-another-eviction-foodbank-time-protestors-ready/

Southwark News
http://www.southwarknews.co.uk/news/homeless-charity-divine-rescue-workers-resisting-eviction-home-aylesbury-estate/

 

 

Empowerment for Surrender? A Response from The Artists, People’s Bureau & Our Reply to the People’s Bureau

Empowerment for Surrender? A Response from The Artists to Southwark Notes

 We would like to thank Southwark Notes on three counts:

  1. For their serious engagement with the politics of the People’s Bureau (see our article ‘Empowerment For Surrender: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant’)
  2. For raising a number of significant questions, and
  3. For the opportunity to respond.

We share many of the concerns of the authors. In particular we:

  • Acknowledge the tension between the ‘belief system’ of corporate capital, and the values of social capital and the global commons, which underpin the People’s Bureau.
  • Recognize the risk that in co-operating with a developer such as Delancey (including by receiving funding) we are co-opted to their purposes.
  • Suspect that Delancey is more concerned with creating the appearance of community engagement and consultation, than with its substance.

Indeed it is largely on the basis of such concerns that we have decided against accepting further funding from Delancey.

We agree with the authors that:

“For us this is less an argument about taking developer money for projects but more the thorny question of what you actually critically do and say from that money.”

We hoped that working with Delancey would present opportunities for influence. However, some of their more recent actions have caused us to question that position.

Where we respectfully disagree with the authors is in their depiction of the People’s Bureau as ‘Empowerment for Surrender’. They overlook the subversive content of the project, describing it in terms, which imply it is little more than a trivial distraction and ‘museumisation’:

Operating out of a customised traders’ mobile cart first given to them by Delancey, the artists began by organising fun and playful activities, as well as workshops and skills-exchange sessions (‘…sewing, knitting and crocheting, pedicure, massage, facials, gardening, baking, vegetable fermentation, light workshop, embroidery, dream-catchers making‘, etc). The aim was to collect local E&C knowledge and memories: stories, drawings and photos.

This analysis completely misses the point of the project, People’s Bureau is intended as a rallying cry against the crude and merciless logic of corporate capital. It is intended to distill and to highlight:

1) The role and function of public space and public commons.

2) The capacity of the community to self-organise.

3) Economic alternatives to cycles of consumption and destruction that, through emissions of greenhouse gases, now threaten the future of life on earth.

There is, of course, a battle to be fought for the Elephant & Castle in the here and now. We do not claim that the People’s Bureau is at the front line of that battle. What we hope, however, is that by reminding people of what is at stake and by focusing attention on the oasis of social capital that is under threat, we give others a vision of something worth fighting for.

We are artists and not experts in legal or planning processes. We would, however, welcome a discussion with the authors about how we might work together to promote greater understanding of these processes. If individuals and citizens platforms come together to make their voices heard, co-operating and exchanging skills, we can ensure there is no meek surrender to the forces of blind capital.

 

People’s Bureau,
December 2016

Note: We have worked to try and improve the online representation of our work at Elephant and Castle online by putting together peoplebureau.co.uk.  We hope the project is better evidenced here and clarifies our point of view more clearly.

Also we invite you to a public discussion on February 2 (venue to be confirmed), to converse about this matter and the wider issues around socially engaged arts practice.

 


A Second Response from Southwark Notes to People’s Bureau

Southwark Notes would like to thank People’s Bureau for their response to our recent article ‘Empowerment For Surrender: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant’ and for the recognition that we are ‘raising a number of significant questions’. While we recognise the People’s Bureau’s willingness to engage in an exchange, we think that there are some fundamental issues that still need to be addressed. We’d therefore like to briefly respond in turn.

People’s Bureau: ‘we suspect that Delancey is more concerned with creating the appearance of community engagement and consultation, than with its substance’.

1.    Delancey DV4 is an aggressive multi-billion pound real estate investment company registered in a tax haven. Ourselves, many investigative journalists and local groups have been pointing this out for years:

35% Campaign on Delancey developments at Elephant
35% Campaign on Delancey Shopping Centre proposals
Private Eye on Delancey
Southwark Notes on Delancey and Shopping Centre
Gunnersbury Park Campaign on Delancey

Delancey, by nature of their business, are interested in one bottom line: how big a profit they can wring from the Shopping Centre redevelopment through the construction of private homes on the site. They have been set on demolition and displacement of local shops and community since they bought the Shopping Centre in December 2013. Two months later in February 2014, they announced ‘The first thing is that we are looking to demolish the centre and redevelop it’. People’s Bureau were then part of Delancey first public consultation in July 2015 where demolition was clearly signaled.

People’s Bureau state that they have moved from a position of thinking that they could accept Delancey’s money and have ‘opportunities for influence’ with them, to one of disillusionment with Delancey’s intentions. They state now that ‘some of their more recent actions have caused us to question that position’. Although we feel that trust in Delancey was always somewhat naïve for critical artists to have, we recognise the role of learning from experiences and criticism and we welcome People’s Bureau new-found realisation. We presume as demolition looms ever nearer that Delancey is now winding down it’s funding of local artists and other groups. What interests us now is: How has the Bureau communicated this let down to Delancey and how has their formal relationship changed? Making the details of their break with Delancey public would be very interesting not only for local campaigners but also to others in the artistic and creative community who might be faced with the same contradictions People’s Bureau have moved through.

So a vital question for us is how People’s Bureau will now use the special relationship they developed over the years with Delancey, to point out the phony nature of their consultation process? As Delancey’s Elephant Shopping Centre application has just been made public, this is a perfect moment to delegitimise the faux ‘community consultation’ and push for real and tangible community benefits alongside local campaigns.

2.    Our critique of People’s Bureau’s work comes from both an early engagement with a few of their events and a close observation of their later activities. Whilst we have not directly engaged with the workshops offered more recently around the People’s Bureau cart, we believe our participation and observation gives us enough understanding to analyse, reflect and comment upon their art practice.

We again question the use of some terms used to describe People’s Bureau’s practice. We fail to see how People’s Bureau’s work engages with debates about ‘the commons’. The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is a privately-owned commercial space, and doing workshops that are open to the public does not necessarily equate much with facilitating a deeper and practical reflection on the use of public space. It is a further leap to say the Bureau is visioning and working towards a ‘commons’ as if one stems from the other (assumed public space to commons). We fail to see how their work ‘highlights…the capacity of the community to self-organise’ when there is little evidence of such a constituency being built by them in a way that other local groups have been engaged in for years.

We understand community self-organisation as being an independent, non-commercial, critical and oppositional coming together in resistance to attacks on that community. The use of such terms seems to be more buzzwords rather than having a solid grounding in practice. They say that our criticisms are reductive of People’s Bureau work that is ‘intended as a rallying cry against the crude and merciless logic of corporate capital’ but, as we have said in our original text, we saw no evidence of any public disavowal of Delancey’s corporate plans for the Shopping Centre. Noting People’s Bureau self-description of the ‘subversive content of the project’, we would be interested in People’s Bureau further elaborating this subversion from within in relation to the engagement and organising they are claiming.

3.    What follows on from this would be that People’s Bureau up their critical stance and supports local self-organisation against Delancey’s plans by continuing to work as artists with the skills, knowledges and continuing desire for participation that they can input into opposition to Delancey and the Council’s plans. Opposition is the stance that many groups, community organisations and individuals have been taking at The Elephant for upwards of 15 years. Listening and learning from them is critical. Supporting them with time, energy, contacts and resources is now crucial.

It’s important to us that we respond to the notion that People’s Bureau ‘are artists and not experts in legal or planning processes’. Being ‘an artist’ does not absolve one of any responsibility or accountability nor provide some presumed neutrality for cover for all of one’s activities. Most of the people opposing Delancey (and other urban ‘regeneration’ projects in London and beyond) are not experts in law and planning and have had to learn fast as they go along. A fundamental part of this work is then to find, produce and share knowledge and demystify the smokescreen of legalistic lingo that developers and local authorities use to sugar-coat promises of ‘regeneration’ that are in fact gentrification and social cleansing.

We don’t much want this to turn into an online to-and-from between Southwark Notes and the Bureau although again we welcome a detailed reply. Outside of this exchange on ideas, the Bureau continues to be accountable to the local community (as is the work and actions of Southwark Notes). That community will be their final judges and critics, and they will base this on the Bureau’s actions, rather than their words.

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New Year’s Day, 2017

Southwark Notes continues to be written by local people opposed to the regeneration of the North Southwark area.  This exchange with People’s Bureau contains the thoughts and ideas of five of us!  *-)

EMPOWERMENT FOR SURRENDER: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant

A Bureau of the people, by the people, for the people!

In June 2016, the People’s Bureau (Rebecca Davies and Eva Sajovic) organised an open discussion on “ethics, tactics and place-specificity in artistic practice, with particular reference to Elephant and Castle and its labelling as an ‘opportunity area’.” The idea was to critically look at the artistic duo’s work in the Elephant, how they work with communities, the Council and developers. It was an open event and there was a panel of artists and academics contributing. Here we think through some of those questions, who is asking them and who gets to answer them.

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Davies and Sajovic have been working as artists in the Elephant and Castle for many years and we have crossed sites and paths many times, offering support sometimes and criticisms at others. Increasingly, we just ended up getting frustrated that their work wasn’t based in any critical position about the regeneration of the Elephant. We wondered why this was the case when so many locals and campaigns were working so hard to counter the spin and lies of the Council and developers.

Their People’s Bureau started as a Tate Modern pilot project in 2014. It later developed when Tate Modern put People’s Bureau in touch with Delancey DV4, a big shot developer who now owns the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre and who began to sponsor the project. Tate Modern will again be sponsoring a new round of People’s Bureau work as part of its ongoing 2017 Tate Exchange programme.

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There is no need to go into detail here about how Delancey operates – have a look at our extensive write up on the planned murder of the Elephant Shopping Centre and 35% Campaign’s post about Delancery’s Tribeca Square development. What you do need to know is that Delancey is a developer accused by HMRC of “aggressive tax avoidance”. Their finances rely on being registered in the Virgin Islands and the use of multiple shell companies. They sealed off without consultation a popular public park (previously Elephant Park and part of the Heygate estate) and are paying a nominal fee of £100 per year to keep it as a construction HQ for Tribeca Square. This space is now declassified as public space. Delancey have sold the land to their own shell company, increasing the price from £8.5m to £18.8m in the course of the transaction. They then used this phony higher land value to demonstrate to Southwark Council that their development is not viable without removing all affordable housing and adding more private residential units.

It is worth mentioning that the artists had already worked with the previous owners of the Shopping Centre, St Modwen, as early as 2010, when their ‘Studio at the Elephant’ project was run from two vacant shops there. St Modwen Properties had partnered with Salhia Real Estate in 2002 to acquire the Shopping Centre for £29.25m in the hope of redeveloping it, but plans were delayed by the slump in the property market caused by the global financial crash of 2008/9. However, it still made a nice profit when it sold it for 80m in 2013 to a partnership of Delancey and Dutch pension fund APG. Delancey are planning on demolishing it to make way for hundreds more private rented homes (with maximum 3 year tenancies), a new LCC campus, a cinema and high street shops. The current shopkeepers are expected to sod off and the Shopping Centre market stallholders “may be able to” pitch up at the few replacement pitches promised at Tribeca Square. Considering that Delancey have already changed their original agreement promising to provide affordable retail space in Tribeca Square to displaced shops by giving this space to Sainsbury’s – we shouldn’t be holding our breath for an open-armed welcome to anyone being booted out of the existing Shopping Centre.

This is all by way of introduction to the kind of real-estate partner the People’s Bureau has chosen to work with in producing public art supported by Tate and Arts Council England. But what about the Tate itself, that big art factory on the Thames? Tate is clear in its strategy to embed art into real-estate development and also clear about carrying on the good work of making North Southwark into a luxury quarter – a plan which goes back to the Docklands developments and which the Council has been putting into place for the past 30 years. This is what they had to say about the Heygate estate ‘regeneration’ masterplan:

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Tate makes no mention of any qualms they have about 1100 lost homes and those displaced out of the area – they see the Heygate demolition as an opportunity.

In a somewhat naïve write-up after their June discussion, the People’s Bureau say this about funding: “There is a tension between payment and action. Can we expect to influence and not be influenced ourselves? It is a dirty context, but there are opportunities and possibilities there.” The tension between payment and action plays out between receiving funding and the blessings of Delancey and the People’s Bureau’s ability to speak freely about what is happening in the local area. Sadly, in the work of the People’s Bureau you won’t see much challenging or engaging with Delancey’s ground zero plans for the Shopping Centre, their theft of a public park and plans for making Elephant a luxury destination. For us this is less an argument about taking developer money for projects but more the thorny question of what you actually critically do and say from that money. There is also precious little encouraging locals to involve themselves in the planning process by criticising the plans or making their own plan. In the same text, the People’s Bureau go on to think about the need to negotiate, and they say: “Trying to work in the ‘dirty context’ of a globally affected urban development is complex, but art and artists are not just a ‘clip on’. There needs to be negotiation, on both sides. We need to know what an organisation’s belief system is in order to engage with it.

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Shopping Centre painting by Rebecca Davies

Davis and Sajovic are artists who have a long-term engagement with the area, so how is there any doubt as to what the belief system of Delancey is? Moreover, if the full power of Southwark Council’s legal and planning team has rolled over to Delancey, what chance does the People’s Bureau have in renegotiating or changing Delancey’s plans? What effort has been made to do that? How is it working to redress the imbalance between the community and the developer? What exactly are the opportunities and possibilities in this ‘dirty context‘?

 

Putting The Cart Before The Elephant: Empowerment for surrender

The goal of the People’s Bureau, as stated by the artists, is “to support the essential preservation into the future” of the Elephant’s “diversity of culture, skills, networks and underlying spirit of the place”. Operating out of a customised traders’ mobile cart first given to them by Delancey, the artists began by organising fun and playful activities, as well as workshops and skills-exchange sessions (‘…sewing, knitting and crocheting, pedicure, massage, facials, gardening, baking, vegetable fermentation, light workshop, embroidery, dreamcatchers making‘, etc). The aim was to collect local E&C knowledge and memories: stories, drawings and photos. All the Bureau’s workshops and artefacts have been thoroughly documented, published or recorded.

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At the same time, the artists are maintaining an ongoing open call for archiving artworks that have taken place in Elephant and Castle shopping centre, which the People’s Bureau identified as the “cultural capital” of the area. They invite us to imagine the grand finale of the project as a kind of museum of local culture on the post-demolition site in Delancey’s brand new shopping mall, equipped with Elephant and Castle memories, artefacts and archives: The ambition is that the cart will eventually return to the newly built Elephant & Castle shopping centre, thus creating the link connecting the old and the new Elephant and becoming a museum of local culture’.

Such an ambition seems painfully wistful. Delancey seeks to create a cluster of luxury flats with upscale shops. They will have no ambition themselves to remind the new residents of who and what came before them. There will be no museum, just the dustbin of history for locals.

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Most of the Bureau’s activities promise to have empowering effects: employment advice, C.V surgeries and sessions on managing your personal budget, clothes mending, house decoration, carpentry and other skills-exchanges. However, these skills-exchanges (despite the fact that skills are attempting to be exchanged in the artistic encounter between locals and that fun and enjoyment is produced) do not empower people to step outside of the frame they have been put in. That frame is the frame of everyday activities as defined by the artists. The everyday concerns of where the shopkeepers and traders will go, where will local people be able to hang out affordably, what can be done to alter the oncoming tsunami of regeneration etc. – all of these are strangely brushed aside. The empowerment of these skills-exchanges is therefore an empowerment to surrender, to go on with their lives as if nothing was happening in their community.

Locally-sourced locals: the applied art of consultation

We have already written loads about how ‘consultation’ works in the context of a ‘regeneration’ scheme (in particular, see our useful Listening to No End case study of how consultation was spun at Heygate Estate). However, with the People’s Bureau another aspect of consultation opens up, that of artists placed as a conduit for talking to ‘stakeholders‘ in the community. The work of the People’s Bureau works to prepare the displacement of a community by documenting the last breath of community life and carefully archiving its history in this our ‘opportunity area‘. The community is engaged in a process which is never explicitly called consultation, but the artwork and artistic outcomes end up being used by the developer to demonstrate community consent for regeneration.

Art consultation is not unique to the Elephant. All over the country, artists are seen as skillful creative communicators who get invited by councils and/or developers to organise events which are often not presented as consultation, but end up by being used as consultation by the developers seeking local legitimacy. We should stress that this is not consultation that obliges the developer (legally or morally) to make any changes to their plans. It is consultation as a PR job and it is often done by PR companies alongside artists who do this sort of work for much less money and who are seen as less compromised than the suited squaddies of the PR industry. But the Bureau’s activities are not presented as consultation, there is something else at play here.

The work of the People’s Bureau, as artists embedded in regeneration, takes the form of exchanging skills and harvesting personal experiences which are then meticulously made into museum exhibits as traces of a disappearing life. This fine touch of museumisation serves as a heavy-handed procedure of removing life from its natural heavily social context and representing it as an outdated or decaying community whose days are numbered by the logical ‘progress’ of regeneration. Art promises to ‘dignify‘ this life through placing it into (self-made) archives, art books, further work in galleries and modern art museums. Artists usually organise their activities encouraging local communities to share their stories, experiences and memories, turning ‘opportunity areas’ into archaeological excavation sites. It is no surprise that one of Eva and Rebecca’s other Arts Council funded (£13,500) projects is called ‘Unearthing Elephant‘. In their artistic statement, they claim: “we want to ensure that the shopping centre and its communities are documented and made visible at this time of dramatic change”. This process of museumisation turns the local community into objects to be researched through the expert lens of the artist-archivist. Collected artefacts (personal stories or objects fashioned by the locals) are carefully documented and archived for future institutional treatment that will potentially bring new value to a post-regeneration site. All of this is set in an arena apart from consultation or the planning process.

The role of the community in this mummification process despite being promoted as an ‘active‘ one that contains ‘power‘ is only really about ‘visibility‘ where there’s neither a publicly constructed space for confronting the ‘dramatic change’ nor for questioning who really has power in this ‘contested‘ site and how to make a local counter-power. There will always be a fundamental power imbalance here: the community is studied in its natural habitat by the artists sponsored by the council/developers. The unspoken agreement is that the artists never really look at how the community’s desires might be in conflict with regeneration plans. Without tackling that power imbalance, all of this works to prove that regeneration is inevitable: it is the best of all possible worlds, there is no alternative. The community is destroyed and its colourful life is placed in “the museum of fish and chips”.

How different the reality is from what Eva Sajovic’s says in her research profile: “In particular I am looking at participation as a method for engaging people in taking hold of their agency, political co- and self-determination and democracy. This includes looking at ways to use art as a tool to support people in being resilient and active agents of their lives, as a catalyst in the processes of power, decision-making and the erosion of public space.” Nowhere in ‘Unearthing Elephant’ or other of the Bureau’s projects is this foregrounded. There is no public trace of engagement with decision-making or the building of counter-power to the developer’s and council’s social cleansing machine.

At the same time the artifacts and events of the People’s Bureau end up being presented as consultation. Here is the pink cart being displayed by Delancey at their community consultation event:

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People’s Bureau art displayed in Delancey’s consultation, August 2015

So, there is a double game being played here: the artists claim to be engaged in a process of making the community visible, while the developer uses this process to demonstrate that the community is visibly engaged with the process of regeneration. Are the people working with the People’s Bureau ever told that their activities are forming part of a pretend conversation with the developer? In our minds, this is not giving people agency and power. Power is not magically produced from the sheer ‘visibility’ and choreographed voices of a community about to be displaced. Such an archiving of voices does not amplify anything other than the actual muting of those voices in the celebration of an impotent nostalgia in the present tense.

 

Those star-crossed lovers: art and activism

Despite talking of art building up resilience and power, artists like the People’s Bureau tend to see their activities as distinct from activism (or anything which may rock the boat): “Art and activism, they are not the same thing, and one cannot replace the other. However they might exist alongside each other, finding moments of connection and ways to strengthen and enrich each other. In addition, artists may be able to get access to people and places which activists could not.” The Bureau asks where we should draw the borderline between art and activism? But they don’t ask if this separation is possible only in an era of making art subservient to developer’s interests. Should artists limit themselves to energising what they see as community, neighbourliness and sociability? Or it is just not enough? Does art involve the freedom to speak out about the plans for the Shopping Centre? Does it involve informing people of the future to come? Or is it in fact merely consigning the present to the museum of the past? If it is at all true artists can get access to places local people cannot then surely they are then in a very privileged place to speak out? Maybe access is premised only on not speaking out. While these questions remain unanswered, the Bureau’s pink mobile cart has traveled, after hard archaeological work in the shopping centre, to be proudly displayed by Delancey in their consultation sessions. So, while the Bureau’s activities are claimed not to be activism, they become an integral part of a ‘consultation’ which is justifying community support for whatever Delancey’s money cares to say goes. The cart stands to show the colourful local community is not against any of Delancey’s plans to purge them from the area and to prove a point to critics (and activists) claiming that regeneration is erasing the history of the place. Delancey has spoken of how they sponsor cultural projects wherever their assets are. Much like the asset of the high value land the Shopping Centre sits on, sponsored artists are appreciated as low value assets to make regeneration flow without much conflict or anything seeming out of the ordinary.

Public artists like the People’s Bureau like to present themselves as part of the solution, but to be able to challenge the lies and violence of regeneration, it is useful to understand their work as part of the problem. The Bureau claim not to be activists, but in fact they work as activists for Delancey’s interests, by achieving Delancey’s desired results and acting as Delancey’s on-the-cheap service provider. It works to extend Delancey’s ‘social license to operate’ by giving them a human face they don’t have. It works to offer skills which will not challenge or shape the regeneration in any way. It works as one way to neutralise criticism of the regeneration. It works indirectly as a public relations exercise masquerading as community activities. It pretends to be of the people, by the people and for the people. Whilst pretending to ‘empower’ local people as citizens so far it seems to only work to reduce them to colourful tribes ready for surrender.

Letter To Evening Standard re: Aylesbury CPO rejection

‘In Monday’s article (regarding the secretary of state allowing Aylesbury Estate residents the right to remain in their homes in the face of Southwark Council’s and Notting Hill Housing Trust’s socially unjust ‘regeneration’ scheme) important points were missed. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid’s rejection of the compulsory purchase order should shame Southwark. Aylesbury Estate has a large Black and Minority Ethnic population. Javid’s report was clear that the redevelopment scheme will affect these most vulnerable local residents and noted Southwark’s failure to uphold its public sector Equality Duty in this respect.

The article also gave the impression that the leaseholders involved in this case are the last ones left on the estate. In fact, this recent Public Inquiry only relates to the “First Development Site”, a small part of the 60 acre estate. There are still hundreds of residents in the rest of the Aylesbury, watching this case with great interest because their homes are due to be affected by Phases 2, 3 and 4. The scheme if it goes ahead will result in a minimum net loss of 800 affordable council homes further impacting available housing for locals on the housing waiting list. After Heygate Estate’s demolition and replacement by mostly private sale homes, residents are fearful of Aylesbury becoming another Heygate, campaign groups in Southwark are calling for a moratorium on estate regeneration schemes that are premised on demolition and decanting of residents.

Finally, the statement by Southwark’s head of regeneration states that the regeneration is “supported by the vast majority of residents”. This is not true – the only ballot of residents to date (in 2001) rejected redevelopment with a 73% majority on a 76% turnout. Southwark Council and Notting Hill Housing Trust must now rethink this entire regeneration model and listen to the residents’ needs and desires’.

Aylesbury Tenants and Residents First
35 Percent Campaign
Elephant Amenity Network
Fight For the Aylesbury
People’s Republic of Southwark
Southwark Notes
Saving Southwark
Southwark Green Party
Southwark Defend Council Housing

 


PDF of this letter here for printing and circulation: letter-to-evening-standard-re

Compulsory Purchase Orders for Aylesbury Estate Regeneration Rejected

After an amazing and determined fight, Aylesbury leaseholders and other residents have been vindicated in their long struggle to be adequately compensated for their homes (if they are to be ‘decanted’ aka displaced out of the area). The whole dubious premise of the regeneration process has been critically toasted on this very basis of piss poor treatment of Aylesbury residents alongside many other crucial criticisms of the Council’s disgusting bulldozing through of the regeneration / gentrification scheme.

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The Inspectors report is long and detailed (83 pages) and we are still figuring out what this means. You can read the Inspector’s letter and report here:

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For us this is the opening space once more to pour our arguments into – net loss of affordable Council homes in favour of private homes, displacement of long term local residents and the gentrification of the area, knock on effects of the regeneration would lead to a secondary displacement locals and shops from local rising private and commercial rents.

For background you can read the whole sorry saga here: http://35percent.org/aylesbury-estate/ and here: https://southwarknotes.wordpress.com/aylesbury-estate/

There will be much more to say in the next weeks. For now here is Barrister Chris Jacobs from Landmark Chambers, giving his closing submission on behalf of objectors to the Aylesbury estate CPO Public Inquiry on 14th October 2015.