Last Monday, shopping centre owner and developer, Delancey, seemed to have finally secured full approval for the redevelopment of the Elephant shopping centre, when Mayor Sadiq Khan declined to intervene in the decision-making. In doing so he allowed Southwark Council’s decision to approve the application to stand and joined them in defying written objections from nine local ward & constituency level Labour parties [^1], two London Assembly members and over a thousand formal objections submitted by local people, against Delancey’s disastrous redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle shopping centre.
Come Tuesday, though, and it was a different story when Delancey failed to secure another planning approval, for a vital condition of the shopping centre scheme. After a vibrant demonstration outside Southwark’s HQ in Tooley St, including impassioned speeches from the Latin American community, planning sub-committee B deferred a decision on Castle Square, the temporary boxpark facility for displaced traders. Delancey is obliged to get this planning consent before it can go any further with the shopping centre redevelopment.
To make matters worse for Delancey, it now looks certain that it will miss the 18 December deadline for concluding the legal S106 agreement that sets the seal on the planning approval. This missed deadline puts the power to refuse the application into the hands of the Director of Planning.
The Director of Planning has every reason to make this refusal, judging by what was heard on Tues evening. Council officers acknowledged that Castle Square would not be suitable for every kind of trader, while asserting that it was just one of the relocation options. Traders point out that it is the only purpose-built option and even when all the alternatives are taken into account there is still a shortfall in floorspace.
Close questioning from sub-committee members revealed other shortcomings, including an obvious one, that should larger traders take units in a yet to be settled flexible design, the Square would accommodate fewer traders in number. Distriandina, home to the Colombian cafe and restaurant, the ‘Heart of Latin London’, and currently occupying Arch 6, testified that Castle Square was not a feasible alternative for them at all.
Delancey has also been dragging its feet setting up the Trader Panel, which has meant that traders have had little influence over the design of Castle Square, prompting several practical objections, such as lack of window space to display goods. Nor has the Traders Panel been able to address fundamental issues, like leases that provide some certainty beyond the lifetime of Castle Square and the rents to be paid, the latter being the biggest problem for sub-committee members. Delancey claimed that the rents to be paid would be on a par with what is being paid by traders at the moment, with officer’s citing an average rent of £64psf. This was fiercely contested by the Elephant Traders Association and so the sub-committee deferred a decision on the application, to allow officers to gather better information.
The sub-committee is due to reconvene for a decision on Castle Square on 7 January 2018, other details to be announced.
Mayor gives dire scheme his approval
Hopes that the Mayor would have had the courage to reject the main shopping centre scheme were sorely disappointed by his refusal to intervene. It transpires that the decision was passed on to deputy mayor for planning, Jules Pipe, when the Mayor cited a conflict of interest, being chair of TfL, who are party to the scheme’s s106 agreement, including a deal for Delancey to provide a new Northern line tube entrance. The decision still remains the Mayor’s, though, in a formal and legal sense.
The decision was announced in a report and press statement which claimed further improvements negotiated by the Mayor, including an extension to the length of time traders would benefit from below-market rents to 15 years. This is better than the current 5 years, but its benefit depends on what the market rent is taken to be, and the Castle Square meeting shows there is no agreement on this. The statement also says that there will be ‘35 per cent…social rent… or other genuinely affordable levels’. The report shows this to be 116 social rented units, which is neither more than there was when the decision was referred to the Mayor, nor enough to meet Southwark’s planning policy, which would require around 170 social rented homes. The top end cap for discounted market rent, aka affordable rent, has been reduced from £90k to £60k, but this makes for a ‘genuinely affordable’ rent only in the Mayor’s imagination.
Delancey, TfL and UAL win, local people lose?
Delancey’s grudging improvements to their money spinning scheme betrays their reluctance to do anything for local people. The delay in bringing forward Castle Square to the last minute has backfired and there is now a chance to refuse the shopping centre scheme, a scheme that is disastrous for traders, the Latin American community in London, as well as offering both much less social rented housing than we need and less than we should be getting.
This chance for a refusal should be taken. All the big beasts - the Mayor, TfL, UAL and Southwark - have been focussed on what they can get out of the development, in the shape of new tube stations and university campuses, much needed no doubt, but gained at the expense of local traders and real affordable housing. They all supported the scheme with little reservation when it was first proposed and it took the local community to step forward, and by outright opposition wrest a few small, but important concessions, from Delancey.
Come the 19th December, Southwark’s Director of Planning can redeem the council by finally putting this scheme to a merciful end. It must not be allowed to destroy the long-standing, vibrant, mixed Elephant and Castle community, a home to working people from around the world for decades. If he does not do so, the local community and all its supporters - traders, residents, local councillors, students, TRAs and trade union branches - will be rallying at Southwark HQ once more on January 7, in support of the traders’ demands for space at rents that allows all of them to continue their businesses and to earn a livelihood for themselves and their families.
[^1]: The following parties wrote to the Mayor objecting to the scheme’s failure to meet minimum affordable housing requirements and provide sufficient relocation measures for traders: Bermondsey & Old Southwark Labour Party; Borough & Bankside Labour Party; North Walworth Labour Party; Faraday Ward Labour Party; St George’s Labour Party; Chaucer Ward Labour Party; Camberwell & Peckham Labour Party, Dulwich and West Norwood Constituency Labour Party and Herne Hill Branch Labour Party