Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on wranglings within Labour in south London over the social cleansing of working class areas
An employee of the Labour Party in Croydon has condemned Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan for having a gentrification agenda in south London.
Speaking up for working class and migrant residents, Jack Buck, the Croydon Labour borough-wide “organiser”, has put the people ahead of party interest.
City Hall has this week given approval for a controversial redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, as proposed by Delancey. Delancey is the private property development company run by Jamie Ritblat which, with Qatari money, bought up London’s Olympic Village after the 2012 Games and made vast profits from the publicly funded development.
Now, they want to take the down-to-earth working class area and transform it into a money-spinning retail and leisure Nirvana.
According to Buck, the approval of the Mayor of London for the scheme at the Elephant has been granted “without addressing the serious concerns of our working class and migrant community”.
While based in MP Sarah Jones’s constituency office, Buck, as well as his job for the Labour Party in Croydon, also happens to be a councillor in Southwark, for a ward just down the Walworth Road from the Elephant and Castle.
In a serious intervention this week, Labour councillor Buck says that Labour Mayor Khan has gone back on his 2016 election promise to be “a Mayor for all Londoners”.
Buck says that he still opposes Delancey’s scheme for the Elephant and Castle, which involves regenerating the 1960s shopping centre, building what the developers call a “cutting edge” new campus for London College of Communication and incorporates new homes plus student accommodation.
City Hall approved the scheme despite opposition from Historic England and locals, including from many Latin American traders who have a strong presence at the Elephant and Castle. The temporary arrangements offered during construction for displaced traders remain much disputed.
The area south of the Elephant and Castle, between Walworth and New Kent roads, has already been subjected to some ruthless social cleansing, with the Aylesbury and Heygate estates having been cleared of council tenants and leaseholders of ex-council flats, to make way for hugely profitable private redevelopments which provide very little affordable housing.
Southwark Council is Labour-controlled.
What has happened there is a prime example of the skewed economics of 21st century public housing policy: on the Heygate, lease-holders of one-bedroom flats were typically offered less than £100,000 in compensation for their homes. Yet mere “studio apartments” in the new development, called Trafalgar Place, started three times as much. The lease-holders were forced to move out of the area.
The residents and traders who live and work in and around the Elephant fear that they will suffer a similar fate to their erstwhile neighbours, friends and customers.
Southwark council has a policy of 50 per cent social housing or 52 per cent London Living Rent shares of housing units in new developments.
Delancey’s Elephant and Castle scheme has a makeup of just 35 per cent “affordable” and 12 per cent for social rent among the 978 homes that will be built amid all the “new retail and leisure space”. This despite the developers getting £11million of tax-payer money.
And while those ratios meet the Mayor’s policy requirements, they still seem less than satisfactory to Buck and his colleagues in Momentum in Southwark.
If the Mayor’s capitulation before big business developers sounds in any way familiar to Inside Croydon’s loyal reader, then it should.
Under Mayor Khan’s housing policy, at least 35 per cent of all new housing developments should be “affordable”.
Back in January of this year, when Westfield and Hammerson snivelled that their £1.4billion scheme to redevelop Croydon’s Whitgift Centre would not make them big enough profits if they were forced to provide an additional 140 flats at rents below the market rate, the Mayor caved in and agreed that only 20 per cent of the 967 new homes proposed needed to meet his affordability criteria and be available at London Living Rents.
By “affordable”, that means rents of at least £1,157 per month.
Mayor Khan’s decision in Croydon, when his affordable quota policy was fresh out of the box, has threatened to create an unhappy precedent elsewhere in London.
One can only hope that Buck’s willingness to stand up to his own party can inspire some backbone into Croydon’s local Labour councillors, who have so far shown themselves pusillanimous in the face of developers.
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As someone who worked in the Walworth Road for many years, I view the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre with an unhelpful mix of “keep it” and “redevelop it”.
About 10 years back, my feeling was “knock it down and start again” as it was then a very sad 60’s relic, in apparent terminal decline. However, even then it was becoming a haven for a huge number of South American, African, and East European businesses that have grown up there, maybe because of cheap rents.
The surrounding area has been transformed, physically and visually for the better, with the demolition of the chillingly drab and monolithic Heygate Estate blocks which Channel 4 viewers will have seen on the Channel 4 screen with giant 4’s almost as big as the brutal battleship-sized concrete blocks.
It is now of an upmarket urban area with attractive apartment blocks, in a mix of bricks and other materials, plus a lot of greenery (with a revamped park, and hundreds of mature trees saved by the stagers of a brave public naked protest done a few years back) , plus excitement, and a distinct modern Latin city feel. If only the regeneration of central Croydon could result in something this good.
The loss of council housing is, however, a reality, and it has to be asked and revealed as to whether so much had to go.
It also has to be asked as to what level of funding would have been necessary to refurbish the existing blocks, or some of them, AND maintain and concierge them properly.
I think the real problem of the Heygate and the adjacent even bigger Aylesbury Estate is that they were mono-cultures of municipal housing on an enormous scale. I don’t know how they scored in terms of resident safety and satisfaction, but something in me wants a better mix of dwelling types and community “mix”.
Getting back to the question of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, I don’t think that it is 60’s architectural gem worth keeping, and has a greasy exterior pit area of stalls that is not at all lovely, but inside it has feel-good factor in parts, due to the varied businesses. Other parts still are sad and empty as faras I could tell when I walked through it one recent Monday evening.
At the risk of sounding naive, I am hoping that the redevelopment rentals at the Elephant and Castle are pitched to make them affordable for a range of businesses, both small and large, and even give existing businesses a discounted rental for the first 3 years. However, it would be a serious and paternalistic mistake to think that businesses run by immigrant communities all need a perpetual hand-out– the vast number are thriving, and run by very able business people, without whom most of these units would be EMPTY!!!
Does the Elephant and Castle area , including the comprehensive and well-designed Heygate redevelopment, have lessons for us in Croydon?. I would say YES, in fact, I think we should redevelop the whole run-down miserable area of West Croydon from London Road down the hill to the Mitcham Road to make a greener modern new residential quarter with copious greening– and (unlike Heygate ) with a good mix of affordable housing to rent and buy..
My hope for Croydon’s shopping equivalent, the Whitgift and Centrale centres, is that they attract some of the Latin American and other “minority ethnic businesses” businesses from the Elephant and Castle. We already have some in West Croydon and the sad St George’s Walk.
It would add some joie de vivre to our own town centre. The process depends on people being able to live in Croydon. South Americans seem to like urban living, so maybe in time we will see South America coming to South London’s Southernmost borough.