Friday, June 03, 2011

Elephant & Castle Regeneration - Lib Dems latest Call-In

On Wednesday evening Southwark's Overview & Scrutiny Committee considered the Lib Dem's latest call-in of our agreement to enter into discussions with St Modwen, the owners of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre and Lend Lease, our redevelopment partners, for the regeneration of the shopping centre.

I have previously posted on this topic, and explained why this agreement was sensible. Firstly, it is better to work in co-operation with our partners than against them; secondly, the discussions may lead to an early redevelopment of the shopping centre; and thirdly, it is in everyone's interests that the shopping centre is redeveloped sooner rather than later.

I had thought that all three of these objectives would be welcomed by everyone. But it seems I was wrong. At Wednesday's meeting Southwark's Lib Dems moved that there should be no agreement for us to even discuss regeneration of the shopping centre with St Modwen and Lend Lease without there being an absolute commitment to demolish the shopping centre before any redevelopment work.

Let's just think about the logic of this position, and what it leads to.

St Modwen will not give an undertaking to demolish the shopping centre. Firstly, the shopping centre as it exists earns them money. They could simply choose to leave it as it is for the time being. Secondly, they believe that their proposals to strip the current centre back to it's concrete core and redevelop will lead to a new shopping centre - and having looked at some of the images they have produced that is hard to argue with. And thirdly, the works which they propose and which are being discussed with ourselves, Lend Lease and the community have the very real potential to meet our key objectives for the Elephant & Castle.

So if we adopted the Lib Dems approach it would not be delivered by St Modwen.

So who would deliver it?

Well the Regeneration Agreement provides that the Council will cooperate with Lend Lease in respect of a compulsory purchase of the shopping centre, but only at a time when Lend Lease ask for the CPO and only after they have exhausted attempts to redevelop with St Modwen. And when would this be likely to happen? The reality is that this would only arise at the end of the regeneration agreement period - 15 years from now. And even then there is no guarantee that Lend Lease would want to demolish the shopping centre if the economic climate for retail was not buoyant.

So the Lib Dems position is that it is wrong to even discuss redevelopment of the shopping centre with St Modwen and Lend Lease, and that we should hold out for a demolition which may not even be delivered in 15 years time, rather than try to bring about a major redevelopment of the shopping centre now.

Isn't the Lib Dems case really this - we don't want a redeveloped shopping centre and we don't want it now!

I am afraid that I cannot understand this position. It lacks ambition; it lacks vision; it opposes progress. But there again isn't that exactly what the Lib Dems did for the 8 years that they were in charge of the Elephant & Castle regeneration?

In 2014 I want to see real progress on the shopping centre; new homes on the Heygate; the development of the Oakmayne/Delancy site; and a new leisure centre for the Elephant & Castle. With the decisions which we have taken so far since last May we are well on the way to seeing these ambitions achieved.

Those who oppose the decision we took to work with St Modwen and Lend Lease on the regeneration of the shopping centre are opposed to the progress of the regeneration.

The Lib Dems have called-in and opposed every significant decision which we have taken on the Elephant & Castle since last May. Isn't it time for them to come clean and state clearly that they oppose the regeneration of this vital part of our borough? And if they don't oppose the regeneration can they please explain how their arguments and objections are consistent with progress being made.


email_dave said...

Peter, the problem here is the whole concept of a "shopping centre". This enclosed building will only attract the local community during peak hours (if at all) and for the rest of the time it excludes us. This type of development is fine for an out-of-town site (e.g. Bluewater, Lakeside) but for a town centre site it is a classic example of failed 1960s planning, along with subways, high level walkways, podium levels and the like. This is why the shopping centre concept has to go. It offers the local community nothing other than somewhere to do the weekly shop. Any form of refurbishment, whatever it looks like, will fail to address the fundamental issues of integrating this area with the community within which it sits. I appreciate you are trying to move this forward, but if you fail to resolve the problems of the past the regeneration will never be a success. The idea to make this building even bigger is unlikely to change the perception that the Elephant is a high density concrete jungle. Rather than opening up this space as we were promised, it looks like we are losing what little open space we already had. The issue of ownership of the shopping centre hasn't just appeared out of nowhere. If there is an issue now, why was this not factored in at the start? Many people locally were resistive to the whole regeneration, but the demolition of this behemoth enticed many to support it. Those people, like myself, now feel deceived. We have lost the greatest asset of the Elephant (the people and community - shipped out elsewhere), and kept the worst (with a bit of re-cladding). Its a shameful episode and local people deserve far better. You were elected last year to "finish what you started", not change your mind half way through. If you and the current ruling party want to be seen as responsible for this, continue as you are.

DH said...

I wrote on my blog London Sidelines that demolition seems inevitable - but I see I'm out of date. Refurbishment is not necessarily a bad option, if it's well done, and the SOM images clearly propose something well beyond a minimal repair job. The real problems are to do with circulation round and through the site, and especially to do with resolving the conflict between the main road and local use of the place, more than having one big shopping centre. It's hard to imagine that a brand-new centre will not include cafes, bars and restaurants and more that will keep the place alive in the evenings.