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Save the Elephant: the fight to protect south London’s ‘anti-Westfield’

Property developers Delancey want to transform the Elephant with a whole new “town centre”, including new facilities for the London College of Communication (LCC) and new housing and retail units.

Their plans are being fiercely resisted by local traders, who are joined in opposition by Southwark Notes, Latin Elephant, 35% Campaign, Southwark Defend Council Housing, LCC student representatives and other local groups, who say it would destroy one of the most multicultural working-class communities in London.

The battle between Delancey and the campaigners lined up in opposition has posed a challenge to the orthodoxies of urban regeneration in London. At 2am on 17 January, after an eight-hour meeting, Southwark Council’s planning committee voted 4-3 (with one abstention) against the developer’s plans for the area, with the objections amounting to a shorthand for regeneration as gentrification.

Stafford Lancaster, a director at Delancey, told Southwark News that it was possible that it might be able to provide more lower-cost housing once the new town centre became more established: “It’s really important to recognise that we are investing in Elephant and Castle for the long term.”

The shopping centre has more than just commercial value to the community, said many campaigners: it is a meeting place. Jerry Flynn of the 35% Campaign highlighted the importance of the bingo hall as a social hub for older locals, along with many of the cafes. “These might seem like small things to Delancey, but they’re big things to us, people who’ve lived here for decades,” he said.

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