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Demolition of Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre Impacts 40 Food Businesses

London mayor Sadiq Khan formally approved the plans by developer Delancey to demolish the shopping centre next year

Elephant and Castle shopping centre
Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Plans to demolish the shopping centre in Elephant and Castle have been formally approved by London mayor Sadiq Khan. The move — which will license the developer, Delancey, to erect new retail units, alongside nearly 1000 new homes (35 percent of which will be socially rented, “genuinely affordable”; not private) and a university campus for London College of Communication, has drawn significant resistance not just from community organisers, but the many — largely South American and Caribbean — business owners in the area.

Within the shopping centre there are currently 17 food businesses; on its fringes, within the centre limits, and under adjacent railway arches there are a further 26 restaurants, bars, and stalls. Many have operated in the central London location for over 20 years; all face the twin threat of termination or forced relocation not just by Delancey’s project, but also proposals by Network Rail to redevelop the rail arches.

Southwark Council’s planning application summary confirms the new provision of a “range of uses,” including 979 residential units, retail, office, education, assembly and leisure, and a new station entrance and station box for use as a London underground operational railway station.

Inside the centre, food traders include Guyanese, Nigerian, Thai, Columbian, Ecuadorean, Indian, and Jamaican; outside, Columbian, Ecuadorean, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Dominican.

A City Hall spokesperson said it had “secured an unprecedented level of support for traders affected, with their rents capped below market rates for 15 years.” But founder of campaign group Latin Elephant, Patria Román Velázquez, described the approval as “a sad and grey day for our communities at Elephant and Castle.” She added: “It saddens me profoundly to witness the consequences of such decision.”

The re-housing of existing traders — which has been one of the biggest sticking points for those resisting the plans — remains unresolved. Traders and developers dispute the capacity of the space required, the indefinable fabric of existing plots, and rent expectations for the new locations. Councillors have proposed a new three-storey shipping container structure on Elephant Road, with capacity for up to 32 small businesses.

A planning officer said that the retail space proposed was never intended to accommodate all the independent traders currently trading in the shopping centre. To do that, it would need to be eight times bigger. The current traders which operate at the centre’s limits do so until late into the night; licensing restrictions would mean the new location closed in the early evening.

SE1 documented a meeting in London last night (Wednesday) between councillors, campaign groups, traders, and the developers. It reports that Delancey sought a “vibrant and varied retail offer ... while the existing shopping centre is redeveloped.” The proposed shipping containers were described as “feature gateway” to Elephant Park.

New information pointed out this morning further angered those protesting the plan. Corsica Studios, a white-British-owned nightclub in one of Elephant’s railway arches is promised a £125,000 contribution from the developer to soundproof its venue. It is not being relocated. However, two nearby Latinx nightclub-restaurants — Distriandina (which is next door to Corsica Studios) and La Bodeguita — have not received the same provision and will be forcibly relocated. One music journalist described as “flagrant institutional racism” the different treatment of the three venues. Natalia Perez of Latin Elephant said the loss of both venues will have a “massive cultural impact for the Latin American community.”

Check back soon for a detailed look at every single food business in Elephant and Castle.

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