Campaigners against the closure of the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre chanted “homes for people, not for profit” and “Delancey in the bin” at a protest on Thursday evening (September 24).  

The shopping centre closed its doors after more than fifty years on Thursday night.  

It was due to close in July but the date was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.   

Developer Delancey plans to demolish the centre to make way for nearly 1,000 new homes, a pedestrianised town centre, a new college building for the University of the Arts London, leisure and office space, as well as a new station.  

Of the homes proposed, 116 will be for social rent, charged at around £100 a week for a one-bedroom flat, while 53 will be available for the London Living Rent at about £150 a week.  

Another 161 will be available at up to 80 per cent of market prices.  

The rest will be at market rent – a one-bedroom is expected to cost about £2,000 a month.  

There has been a long-running dispute between campaigners against the plans and the developer.  

Southwark Council and Delancey say that all eligible traders have been relocated or offered new premises.  

But groups such as 35% Campaign and Latin Elephant say more than 40 traders have been left with nowhere to go.   

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Tanya Murat, from the Up the Elephant and Southwark Defend Council Housing, led a group of protesters around the roundabout in Elephant and Castle on Thursday.  

After leading the group to the entrance of the shopping centre, she said: “We won’t abandon the Elephant and Castle to the rich developers […] and the people that care for nothing but profit. 

“We say homes for people, not for profit. 

“Can we have some fists in the air everybody in solidarity with everyone fighting back […] in solidarity with the Elephant, in solidarity with our working-class community. We stand together, we say this is our community, we will not allow it to be smashed up.” 

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Jerry Flynn, behind the 35% campaign, also spoke to the crowds and said “this is just the end of the beginning”. 

“There is still a long way to go before anything is going to be built here,” he said.  

He added: “Southwark Council and Delancey think everything we’re getting in this new development […] is worth the sacrifice that’s being made by these traders, it’s worth the sacrifice of these traders. 

“Today we have demonstrated that this is not so, that this should have been a development that included everybody. 

“This isn’t the end of the road. Traders have put together their own proposals for more market stalls at the Elephant and Castle – 40 or so new market stalls which would double the number of traders who have been relocated.” 

Mr Flynn said that the proposal had gone to the Mayor of London and read out his response to the crowd.   

Sadiq Khan said: “It is disappointing that a number of small businesses don’t have the certainty that they need. 

“I understand that the specific relocation proposal you refer to will be subject to various planning and licensing consents, so it is not appropriate for me to comment at this time. 

“However, in general I would welcome any […] solution that provides these businesses with the space they need to trade.” 

A trader also spoke about his concerns for the future.  

“We are begging all these people because we are left homeless, [with] nowhere to go […] we think it’s unfair what they have done to us,” he said.  

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Catford against social cleansing joined to support the protesters

Locals who came to the protest spoke of their dismay over the redevelopment.  

Joe Clarke said: “We’ve lived around here for 30 years, there’s one of everything.  

“What the developer has done isn’t interested in one of everything. They’re interested in doing a Westfields like in Shepherd’s Bush. It just doesn’t suit us – it doesn’t suit all these people.” 

Another resident said the day “felt very emotional”, while another said it was “another nail in the coffin for working-class culture”.  

Sean Rowlands, who is part of a volunteer group that helps with homelessness and overcrowding, has lived in the area for about three years. 

“It’s a shame that the voice of residents, the voice of traders, the voice of the people that live in Southwark, don’t have the same weight as the developer’s. 

“In a way [the shopping centre] is a symbol, but, also, it’s such a big part of what this area is and it’s very sad to see it go,” he said.  

Mr Rowlands said the housing crisis “is very acute here”.  

“The scarcity of housing is directly related to the fact that the opportunity to redevelop this wasn’t taken to ameliorate that, which is a bigger problem than the need for the development that is proposed.” 

He added: “We should be trying to do as best as we can, and they’re not doing it.”

Statement from the council

This week, in a joint statement from Southwark Council and the Elephant and Castle Town Centre team: “The Elephant and Castle Town Centre project team have been working closely alongside Southwark Council and its advisors, Tree Shepherd, to ensure all qualifying independent traders can relocate from the existing shopping centre ahead of the long planned closure on 24 September 2020.

“We are aware of the various uncorroborated statistics that have been published through social and other online media. These are incorrect. We can confirm without question that all qualifying businesses have been relocated or offered relocation options.

“Many of the businesses being cited by third parties did not qualify, did not apply to move or they have already left (in some cases a long time ago). The information being publicised by some organisations is simply inaccurate.

“We set out further details below, given the importance of accurate information at this critical moment for the Elephant and Castle Town Centre and to ensure that all stakeholders are fully aware that a thriving commercial centre will continue to exist, with local businesses fully represented and trading, after the shopping centre has closed.

“The misleading information published elsewhere risks damaging individual’s business prospects by implying closure of them and does not do justice to the exciting prospects that the relocating businesses and entrepreneurs can look forward to in the future.

“Similarly, it does not reflect the positive feedback received from the majority of businesses, who have accessed all the help that is on offer.”