Dan Langley reports on the latest campaign in Southwark, London, against parasitic developers who are exacerbating the housing crisis with their profit-driven plans to build luxury flats.
In the early hours of Wednesday last week (17th January), Southwark council deferred the decision on a proposal for luxury housing in Elephant and Castle. The verdict on the application, submitted by real estate developers Delancey, will now be made on 30th January.
This comes on the back of a tireless campaign by local residents, who picketed the council’s Tooley street office in order to make their voice heard.
Members of the council voted 4 against 3 with 1 abstention, delaying the 979 home application in the heart of Elephant and Castle. This bid included only a dismal 3% allocation for social housing.
One Southwark Councillor, Rebecca Lury tweeted the same morning that, “this scheme was inadequate from the start and failed to support the local community on so many levels.”
Seeing councillors come down on the side of the local community comes as a breath of fresh air. It is a reflection of the shake up that is taking place in the Labour Party as a result of the Corbyn movement.
Historically Southwark council never missed a trick to roll out the red carpet for developers. The most criminal recent example is when they allowed the Heygate estate to be demolished. Only 74 affordable housing units were offered up to the 3,000 working class people who had their homes snatched away at less than market value.
But this latest decision from the council has only been deferred. The issue of gentrification hangs like the sword of Damocles over the residents.
With local elections scheduled for May, Labour right-wingers on the council may reluctantly side with the residents until their seats are safe once more. This raises the important question of the need for the mandatory reselection and democratic accountability of Labour councillors. The housing crisis in Southwark and nationally causes distress, homelessness, and the uprooting of communities. We need labour movement representatives who are willing to make a stand against this.
Delancey themselves admitted that working households in London find Zone 1 unaffordable. They acknowledged in their statement that “…Of course there is a wider issue around social housing”. Yet their response to this has been to state that, “Elephant and Castle town centre cannot answer all of these issues alone and remain financially viable at the same time”. I
In one breath they speak of a housing crisis, and in the other they exacerbate it with no sense of irony or regret! Their greed-driven outlook will never be the answer to the housing question. Meanwhile, the development company hoards £154 million worth of profit in offshore accounts.
One of the many groups fighting this injustice in Southwark is Up the Elephant. One of their key demands, just like the ‘35% Campaign’, is for “35% real affordable housing”, with half in social rent and half at the London living rent.
Whilst this demand is admirable and definitely a worthy cause to get behind, it won’t put an end to the parasitic cycle of the profit-driven housing crisis. The projected £153 million that Delancey stands to make from this proposal shouldn’t just be syphoned off to pay for social housing, as Up the Elephant suggests. These profits should all be expropriated and used for the far wider benefit and needs of the community.
This is just one of many vulture-like companies circling over Elephant and Castle. As the community battles the scandalous proposals of Delancey, a similar Australian Company, Lendlease, has partnered with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board to expand the unaffordable luxury complex Elephant Park. This plan has the blessing of the council.
Delancey clearly sees the absurd £70 million in profit that Lendlease made building a 37-story block of luxury flats – with zero affordable housing – and wants to follow suit.
The fight now needs to continue: not only for the 30th January verdict, but also to bring in a Labour government with socialist policies that will stonewall these land grabs. Otherwise these crooked development companies will continue to exacerbate the housing crisis for their benefit.