Community centre resists Boris’ luxury flats

The Library Street London collective explains how south London is not standing for the mayor’s ‘takeover’

February 25, 2013
5 min read

Boris Johnson is due to rubber-stamp planning permission for yet another tower block of luxury flats in Elephant and Castle, south London. In anticipation of this move our group of squatters and local residents, under the name of ‘Self-Organised London’, took the building from under Boris’ watch to return it to the neighbourhood in direct action against the gentrification that we see around us and the wider housing crisis. (It has since turned out that the public hearing due to take place was cancelled on Monday, the day before we moved in.)

Boris’ ‘takeover’ of the planning application from Southwark council is just one instance of many of the undemocratic process of ‘regeneration’ that is ravaging Elephant and Castle. The mayor’s intervention came two years ago after Southwark council denied planning permission to developers Oakmayne for a 41 storey tower building of flats. Oakmayne had failed to comply with several local development policies including 35 per cent affordable homes and the height of tall buildings (although this has not deterred Southwark council in the past whose rip-off deal for the Heygate estate was revealed recently when the council leaked a secret document online).

The planning application has just 65 ‘affordable’ flats of a total of 335 flats; with their definition of ‘affordable’ anyway being meaningless to the majority of the Elephant’s residents. The mayor has the power to ‘take over’ a planning application, making him final decision-maker, if it may impact on his London Plan. So far, he has used these powers on five previous occasions, granting planning permission in every case.

As yet another garish development goes ahead that shows complete disregard for democratic process and the real needs of the residents of Elephant and Castle, Elephant residents and squatters have taken over the old 1960s office block and turned it into a community centre for locals and those from further afield. As sky-high rents, demolition of social housing, residents’ displacement and the forthcoming housing benefit changes tear apart our diverse and organic communities we hope to create a space where we can meet and organise together against gentrification and the wider housing crisis and for our communities’ needs.

The community centre will run a range of activities, and be a space where people are encouraged to initiate their own, including community dinners, film screenings, discussions and workshops, open mic nights and anti-gentrification walks of the area. People are invited to simply pop by for a tea and a chat.

This open and free space belongs to all the communities of Elephant and makes use of the building which had stood abandoned for years. Yet, despite the existence of perfectly usable buildings such as this one, which may need some care and paint, vast swathes of the neighbourhood face demolition, with bulldozers being ordered to destroy the structurally sound and good quality flats of the Heygate estate.

Glass tower skyscrapers are popping up at an incredible rate, commensurate with the less obvious food banks in the area which are hidden away in church halls. Elephant and Castle is being transformed rapidly and residents’ views are being swept aside to make way for the new residents who will inhabit these glass towers. This is a reality which is being repeated in neighbourhoods all over London (for example, the struggles over the Carpenters’ Estate and West Ken and Gibbs Green Estate) and cities across the UK.

Boris’ decision on the planning proposal for luxury flats at the Eileen House site was due to take place just over a month before his party implements huge housing benefit cuts that will exacerbate the already severe housing crisis in this country. The bedroom tax and housing benefit cap will see poor and vulnerable residents forced from their homes. While Southwark council rolls over to the demands and so-called ‘needs’ of most property developers (their stance against the Eileen House proposal being something of an anomaly) they make no such efforts to protect the rights of their tenants and residents to their homes. There is an irony and cruelty that as residents watch these towers of luxury housing appear – manifesting the truth that there is no shortage of housing, but that access and affordability is the problem – they are dispossessed of their own homes.

Elephant’s communities will not allow Southwark council, developers, or Boris Johnson to ‘take over’ our neighbourhoods. Organising together and supporting each other, we will assert our rights to our homes and we will take back spaces for our communities, starting with Self-Organised London’s newly opened Eileen House community centre.

For more information go here.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greenwald speaks Trump, War on Terror, and citizen activism
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn


21