University of Arts London (UAL) students are at the forefront of a housing campaign opposing plans to redevelop the centre of the Elephant and Castle area of South London.
The ’Stop the Elephant Development’ campaign is centred around the local communities’ dissatisfaction with proposed housing plans. The Elephant and Castle shopping centre is planned to be knocked down and replaced with 979 new homes.
However, many of the local residents were shocked and angered to discover that just 33, roughly only 3%, of these new homes were “affordable” at “social rent equivalent”.
Property firm Delancey bought the building in 2014 and are now seeking the local council’s approval for the redevelopment. Plans also include a new campus for the London College of Communication (LCC), a part of UAL.
However, the plans have been described as “destructive” and critics fear it will lead to social cleansing and gentrification of the area, which is largely multicultural and working class community, with a large South American population.
The campaign was successful in disrupting plans by Southwark Council to demolish the shopping centre. On 16th Jan, the development plans were halted by Southwark council’s planning committee by four votes to three.
However, the plans were not completely rejected and instead a vote on the issue was deferred to 30th January.
Since then, students have been key players in taking a more radical approach. They have been involved in occupations, lecture shout-outs, protests and the postering of UAL buildings.
Sahaya James, Campaigns Officer at UAL’s Students’ Union, reports that UAL management have used various tactics to break up the occupation including: refusing toilet access and limiting the number of occupiers allowed. The management have also reportedly threatened a “disciplinary policy” to an elected UAL Students’ Union officer for their part in the occupation.
The campaign is now calling on everyone to support them on Tuesday 30th Jan at the Southwark Council Office. They hope the planning committee will respect the previous vote and reject the proposed plans.
Delancey described the development as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to deliver essential regeneration to a key London location”.
In an official statement the ‘Stop the Elephant Development’ campaign group accused UAL of making “a mockery” of the university’s “commitments to ‘social justice’, ‘diversity’ and ‘engagement’. They are artwashing social cleansing.”