Just thirty-six independent traders from the Elephant & Castle shopping centre have been allocated new space in which to trade, in the event of the centre’s demolition and redevelopment. Despite concerns raised by the Chair of the ‘Traders Panel’ and his fellow panel member, the figure is trumpeted in a self-congratulatory press-release from Southwark Council and belies the true situation which is that at least 40 traders have been left out in the cold, according to Latin Elephant, who champion the cause of all independant ethnic minority traders. Southwark News reported that 28 applications for space were rejected.
The new spaces are a mixture of permanent affordable units, at the base of the Elephant One Tower and on the ground floor of Perronet House (the ‘Elephant Arcade’), and temporary affordable units in Castle Square.
No room on the Park
Noticeably absent from the relocation sites are the affordable retail units on Elephant Park, formerly the Heygate estate. At over 1300 sqm, with circa 800sqm available in 2019, this is by far the largest of the four sites presented to Southwark’s planning committee as alternatives for displaced traders. This 800sqm of affordable retail comprises 8 units all located on one street (Sayer St), pictured in the CGI below (extracted from Lendlease’s marketing brochure).
Unlike the other 3 sites, Elephant Park is under Lendlease control, not Delancey or Southwark, so the suspicion is that they have no desire to help Delancey, or Southwark, relocate traders, notwithstanding the ‘imagination, empathy and dedication’ it claims to be bringing to the Elephant & Castle. The CGI image above and marketing image below suggest that Lendlease’s vision doesn’t aim to include the likes of Jenny’s Burgers or the Sundial Cafe.
Lendlease’s new retail units on Sayer Street nearing completion
A predictable debacle
A relocation strategy that only to relocates half of those who need relocation is a failure by any measure, more so when that failure is entirely predictable. Objectors, led by Latin Elephant, have consistently pointed out that Delancey’s half-hearted and dilatory ‘strategy’ simply did not provide enough space to accommodate all the traders who wish to stay at the Elephant and this has remainded the case, even as the number of traders has inevitably changed over time.
In the summer of 2017 Southwark estimated that there were about 130 independent businesses, occupying 4005sqm within the ‘red-line’ of the development (excluding the Hannibal House office space). Latin Elephant calculated that all available space, including Elephant Park (East St market spaces, nearly a mile down the road), could accommodate 84 businesses on 2,263 sqm - not much more than half the floorspace required and leaving at least 38 eligible buinesses out in the cold.
In March 2018, Latin Elephant objected to Delancey’s planning application, on the grounds that the amount of affordable retail space fell far short of the 4000 sqm needed. Nonetheless, the officer’s report for the application, lumped the new shopping centre’s affordable retail with the affordable retail of Elephant One and Elephant Park. The report noted that over a third of that space would not be completed until 2024, but nonetheless reached the comforting concluson that the total of 3866 sqm was ‘only marginally short…of the 4,005sqm of space currently occupied by independent retailers on the east (shopping centre) site’ (para 221).
By January 2019, Perronet House had been approved and Castle Square itself went to planning committee, so the officer’s report for this wisely drops any reference to the shopping centre, to reach an affordable retail total of 2,859sqm. The report acknowledges that ‘whilst this would be less than the 4,005sqm currently understood to be occupied by independent businesses on the east site, some businesses may be able to operate from smaller premises’ (para 57). Southwark now identified 80 businesses in the redline and gave verbal assurances that there ‘should be sufficient’ units to accommodate everyone.
In an FOI response in March 2019 Southwark gave the number of traders as 79 (an underestimate that treats the several businesses in Arch 7 as one).
Wishful thinking and indifference
While Southwark’s approach to relocating centre traders can be characterised as wishful thinking, Delancey’s can be characterised as indifference. It’s starting position was that providing affordable retail ‘would be unviable and inapproriate’ (para 4.63) and that a relocation strategy would only be forthcoming, once Delancey had secured planning approval (an aim it acheived). Only the concerted efforts of local campaigners and councillors has dragged concessions from Delancey, including Castle Square, a relocation fund, as well as the affordable retail units, but more is needed. Traders must be given more space for relocation and securer leases; the centre itself needs urgent maintenance and promotion, so that businesses remain viable. The relocation fund of £634,700 is not enough to for the number of traders who need its help.
It’s not too late
In the meantime, it’s not too late to put a stop to this disastrous and inequitable scheme. The application for a judicial review of the shopping centre planning permission continues its legal progress. We want the permission quashed, for a scheme with more social rented housing and a better deal for traders.