Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre Planning Application

On the 18th December, Southwark Council's main planning committee will consider an application for the redevelopment and regeneration of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre. The development has been on the cards for a number of years - predating my election in 2014 - but this is the moment to decide what the actual redevelopment will look like.

And it's vital that we get it right.

In and of itself, the current shopping centre is a hub for the Latin American community. The bingo hall provides a cheap and accessible facility for mostly older people. The market traders sell affordable goods - including healthy fruit and veg - and can make a livelihood from the sheer volume of footfall at one of London's busiest interchanges. It's a big part of what makes Walworth a great place to live.

I am a fan of the current building, and the community, businesses and other organisations which exist in and around it; and in many ways it's a shame for its private owners, DeLancy to want to pull down such an iconic, and historically significant, structure rather than refurbish.

However, I've always been open to the idea of a replacement. Undeniably, it would mean massive improvements to accessibility around the station, and could mean much more accessible, and safer, ways to access the tube, rail and 'busses.

The biggest advantage, and the basis of my positive engagement with the idea since being elected, has been the provision of housing on the site. A large-scale development on a site with no housing at all is a good thing - especially bearing in mind the Council's policy of 35% affordable housing, of which half has to be socially rented. Bearing in mind concerns about the levels of social housing provided on the site of the old Heygate estate (compromises made as a result of inheriting bad decisions by the Liberal Democrat/Tory administration), new social housing on the site would go a little way to rectifying that. The largest amount of temporary accommodation in Southwark is in Faraday, and the pressure to find stable Council or housing association tenancies for these residents is acute.

Moreover, we have Council policy which tries to ensure that groups are vulnerable to planning changes are protected from disproportionate adverse effects. 10% of business space should be affordable to help protect the market traders and small businesses. Usages can be protected - like a bingo hall. Equality impact assessments are commissioned so we can mitigate or eliminate the effects on people based on a legally protected characteristic (like age or race or sex).

Mindful of all of the above, ideas championed by me and comrade councillors across Walworth and the borough (especially in the ward where the shopping centre is based, East Walworth), the planning application to be considered in a fortnight falls way, way short of the above expectations and policies.

Tonight, I joined comrades from East Walworth and Chaucer wards (both of which border the Elephant roundabout) in submitting an objection to approving the application, in the strongest possible terms.

The proposal does not include or protect a bingo hall. The proposal provides only 5% guaranteed affordable business units. The proposal includes an incomplete and spurious proposal to move the market traders to units in the basement of a Council block away from the footfall to the shopping centre and station.

The proposal has 3% social housing. That's 33 units.

The proposal projects £154 million profit. One hundred and fifty four million. £154,000,000.

I do not believe that the application meets the letter or the spirit of our planning policy. I believe that it threatens to destroy a vibrant community, not enhance it, and fails Walworth.

I've submitted an objection as both a local resident and an elected councillor for Faraday ward. The opinion that it fails residents is not just my own; in April this year my incredible Labour Party branch passed a motion condemning a previous application, later passed by our constituency party. The application has changed and so some of the elements have altered (no social housing was originally proposed at all), but none of the resolutions - simply requiring the development to meet Council policy - have been met. I'm not a delegate from the branch, and no councillor is bound by their motions, but I voted for that motion and agree with its unimplemented resolutions.

As a Faraday councillor I work hard to make sure the regeneration of the Aylesbury is supported by the community that lives here, and that the promises about the above policy levels of social housing, and the right to remain, are respected. I cannot do that with integrity and a credible voice if I am silent on or support this application.

I was the sole Southwark councillor to publicly support Jeremy Corbyn in his leadership election in 2015 and 2016 - and many of my colleagues in Southwark have since embraced the bold, developing policy of the Labour Party under his leadership. I voted for him so we can change the fundamental way we do economics in this country - not least reforming housing policy in the UK. Only now do we have a party willing and able to bring back large scale Council house building and do better deals than we can currently achieve under massive financial and legislative restraint. Comrades from across the Labour family are opposing this application because it's not even in tune with the broken housing and regeneration frameworks we have in place at the minute.

I would urge all residents in Southwark and Lambeth, so many of whom are affected by such a major decision about such an important site, to make their thoughts on the application known HERE. The full text of my objection, which should be published online on Monday, can be found below.


I am writing to object in the strongest possible terms to this application, which I believe is not compliant with either the spirit or the letter of the Council's planning policy.

I am a Walworth councillor, one of the three Labour members for Faraday ward, which is less than a mile away from the proposed development. I am also resident in my ward.

The shopping centre is an important hub for our community in Walworth, it represents a solid source of employment, and of affordable shopping, particularly for our working class community. It has particular significance for the Latin American and Iberian diaspora due to the businesses and organisations which are based there.

It is critical that any development is done with community support and provides an improvement, not a loss for the community in Walworth.

This application does not.

The proposals for relocating market traders are opaque, and speculative. If they were to happen, the traders would be isolated from the economic benefits of any scheme, moved away from footfall and passing trade. It does not create a sustainable future for those businesses, nor a mixed development of the required 10% level of genuinely affordable units.

Because of the failure to have a concrete guarantee to provide a space on the site for those traders I do not believe that the application meets the letter of our planning policy with respect to affordable business unit provision. Because of the failure to work constructively with those traders and that community to win their support for a scheme, I believe it does not meet the spirit of our policy either.

On another business related issue, there is no re-provision of a bingo hall. This is an incredibly important cultural asset, particularly for older people in our community. Failure to re-provide will remove an important place for often older people to socialise and eat cheaply.

The failure to do this means that I do not believe it meets the spirit of our planning policy with respect to conserving assets of value to our community.

These two decisions disproportionately affect people with protected characteristics, as defined by the Equality Act 2010 - the Latin American community (race and ethnicity), people who describe themselves as of black, African or Caribbean descent (race and ethnicity) and older people (age). The failure to re-provide space for these groups with adequate explanation could be considered discriminatory. Indeed, the officer's report does already include a clear conclusion that the development disproportionately damages older people and some minority ethnic groups in our community with regard to the bingo hall, but requires no resolution of the matter. I think this should be considered by the committee in detail and amendments made to eliminate risk to those communities and the Council.

Of equal importance is the clear breach of our planning policy with respect to the provision of affordable housing - particularly egregious is the incredibly low level of socially rented units. To be compliant with our modest policy should see 35% affordable, at which at least 50% should be social. A mere 3% of this proposed scheme is socially rented.

I understand that there is a projected profit of £154 million for this project. It is simply absurd to claim that there cannot be at the very least a policy compliant level of socially rented homes based on such large figures. Frankly, the developer should be going above this to comply with the spirit of our policy.

We have colossal pressure on our housing list. To even consider a variation to the policy on an application this large is not reasonable.

I would also ask the committee to look at the make-up of our housing register with respect to the Equality Act 2010. We need to be sure that this failure to provide, which will have an impact on those residents on the list, including the large number living in temporary accommodation in Faraday ward, is not disproportionately affecting women and people from a BAME background who, anecdotally, appear to be most in need of more social housing.

The committee should also consider the rent levels of any socially rented housing provided, and ensure in their decision that it is set at Council rent levels as they have in previous applications.

In sum, the application fails to provide the requisite amount of socially rented homes and does not offer a solid plan to provide all of the 10% affordable space for business. With these two key elements lacking, the equality impacts on older people & people from BAME backgrounds cannot be justified. This is despite £154,000,000 profit. £154 million.

I write as a Labour councillor for Faraday reflecting my concerns as a resident there & as an elected representative of that community. I would also like to add my support to the objection submitted by my colleagues & comrades in East Walworth which adds other elements as ward councillors.