Occupy LCC: Students protest over ‘gentrification’ plans

Students are currently occupying University of the Arts London’s (UAL) London College of Communication (LCC) at Elephant and Castle in an all-hours sit-in that has entered its seventh day.

The move is a demonstration against development plans made in a partnership between UAL and property firm Delancey, that the protesters claim will be ‘disastrous’ for the local area and will further the process of ‘aggressive gentrification’ in the area. Elephant and Castle, situated in Southwark, is known as a focal point for the London student, with easy connections to many nearby universities. Southwark Council is due to make decisions regarding planning permission for the developments on Tuesday evening, after the previous meeting resulted in a vote of 4-3 against approving the proposals.

The plans involve the demolition of integral community hubs which includes the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre – the home of over 100 largely black, Asian and minority-ethnic-owned local businesses. Under the proposed developments, no alternative arrangements have been made for the businesses, and thus they are set to be evicted. Reports state the local bingo hall, London Palace Bingo, a community facility that provides social activity for 7,500 pensioners each week, will also be demolished if the plans are to proceed.

A primary concern of the protesters, in addition to the loss of these facilities, is the proposed housing development. According to current plans, only 3% of its 979 homes will be offered at ‘social rent equivalent’ (which will be let at up to 80% of market rent), a mere fraction of the proportion required by current Elephant and Castle policy. The developers have claimed that to provide the required number of social rented housing will not be financially viable although opponents to the plans have questioned their financial practices and lack of transparency, pointing out that Delancey has a network of companies in offshore tax-havens. Elephant and Castle has been firmly placed at the centre of a pattern of alleged ‘gentrification’ for decades. Most long-term residents acknowledge the controversial demolition of the Heygate Estate, home to 3,000 people, which was demolished from 2011 to 2014, and replaced by Lendlease’s Elephant Park, a luxury housing development which is described as ‘re-inventing city living for the 21st Century’. Some see these developments as ‘regeneration’, however, the recent news that more than half of the luxury apartments built in London last year have failed to sell, gave rise to concern about the intention of the developers.

Universities in London have shown their solidarity with the campaign by participating in banner drops and getting the word out surrounding the ‘Stop the Elephant Development’ movement.

Sahaya James, campaigns officer at Arts SU (UAL’s student union), expressed her opposition to the plans and her support for the occupation saying, “We students will not give up. We will not be leaving until UAL listens to our demands and the demands of the community and condemns the plans as what they are: social cleansing.”

In response to the pressure, UAL has been engaging in meetings with representatives of the occupation but has yet to agree to meet any demands and, in response to the sit-in, stated that ‘people’s safety and wellbeing remains our priority alongside the security of our buildings’.

 

This article was contributed by Laura Wormington, KCL student. The campaign can be found at Stop The Elephant Development. Pictures used with permission from the author. 

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