Ruth Bloomfield

Has the regeneration of Elephant and Castle been a success?

Ten years into one of London’s biggest redevelopment schemes, the verdict is mixed

  • From Spectator Life
The statue adorning the old Elephant and Castle shopping centre in south London [Getty]

It has been ten years since work began in earnest on the regeneration of one of the few surviving sections of old-school central London. While the rest of Zone 1 seemingly saw wall-to-wall gentrification, Elephant and Castle remained an outpost of stubborn, scruffy ordinariness, an oasis of discount stores, greasy spoons and traditional boozers.

Over the past decade, billions of pounds have been lavished on sprucing up the Elephant. But while the old place certainly looks quite different – a cluster of new towers, thousands of new homes, a gaping hole where the 1960s shopping centre once stood – this is a regeneration that has had its fair share of troubles.

In fact, controversy has swirled around Elephant and Castle even before developer Lendlease set to work on its centrepiece in 2013. To make space for the £2.5 billion, 3,200-home Elephant Park development, Southwark Council first needed to clear the council estate it was to replace. The ‘decanting’ of the Heygate Estate was an ugly process. At the heart of the conflict was a hard core of residents determined to stay put railing against a council encouraging them to pack their bags – often using strategies such as turning off their heating to force them out.

The Heygate Estate before its demolition, which was completed in 2014 (Credit: Getty)

Jerry Flynn’s family had moved to the Heygate in the 1970s and he stayed there until the early 1980s, when he got his own flat in Bermondsey. When rumours first began to swirl about the redevelopment, Flynn’s mother, who lived on the estate, filled him in. She asked him to help her navigate the process – and what Flynn saw horrified him.  

Council tenants were rehoused in Southwark, but those who had bought their council homes were offered such low levels of compensation that few could afford to stay locally.

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