Plans to demolish and rebuild the Elephant & Castle shopping centre have been criticized by many, for not providing enough social and affordable housing and for placing the interests of national and international companies over the future of existing independent traders.
It is widely accepted that retail rents will significantly increase with the new shopping centre. This will make it unaffordable for very many of the independent businesses, most of which are from BAME backgrounds, as are their customers. The report concedes that the ‘development would result in the displacement of BAME owned businesses, which comprise the majority of SMEs on the site, and which provide goods or services which serve the needs of people from a shared ethnic background.’ It suggests that in future, such people walk to Walworth Road instead.
As a concession, a small portion of retail units will be provided at discounted rents for a period of time. However, independent businesses and traders currently occupy 6,512 square meters of floor space – well over three times the space that will be allocated at ‘affordable’ retail rates. As for existing market stall holders, the report states that ‘no space has been specifically allocated’ for them, and that no business will have a right to return after completion.
The report also makes the Labour-run Council’s preference for large national and international companies over the local independent entrepreneurs explicit. Their primary priority is to ‘attract national retailers [and] allowing existing traders an automatic right to return could potentially undermine this’. As such, no guarantees that they will have their businesses back after this will be given.
Other popular businesses that cater for locals on more modest means also face an uncertain future under these plans. The report acknowledges 650 people visit the Bingo hall every day. Nevertheless, it pointedly refused to give any details, let alone promises, of how such a popular venue will re-emerge after the development – although it did highlight the existence of other bingo halls locals could go to instead, several miles away.
Speaking about the proposals, Cllr Anood Al-Samerai, the leader of the Liberal Democrat Opposition on Southwark Council said: ‘We all want to see improvements come to the Elephant & Castle. Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Council’s first loyalties are to the developers and national retailers, and that the interests of local businesses, stall-holders and their customers come second. Communities and economies that have grown organically over decades are now threatened. Keeping the Elephant & Castle’s distinctiveness and improving the general area are not contradictory ambitions and they shouldn’t be treated as such.’
The other aspect of the proposals facing criticism has been that there are not enough levels of genuinely affordable rent. The report states that though 36% of the new housing is deemed ‘affordable’, half of these will be for those earning between £60,000 to £90,000 a year. Only 33 of all new properties will have social rent equivalent rates, out of a total of 979.
Cllr David Noakes, a Liberal Democrat Councillor for the area said: ‘Southwark Labour have a well-earned reputation for being far too cosy with developers and the miserly levels of social rent and truly affordable housing that come from this project is yet more proof of that. Yes, more homes need to be built; yes, we want to see development, but the Labour Council has rolled-over far too willingly to developers. It’s hard to see how many locals on modest means will benefit from these plans, and just as with local businesses, may well be effectively pushed out of the borough.’