Elephant & Castle shopping centre faces re-development. But what of its Latin American residents?

By Kieron Monks

via CityMetric

South London’s Elephant & Castle shopping centre has long served as a punchbag for aesthetes, and has been variously described as a “blunder,” an “eyesore,” and a “manky hot-pink semi-empty mall." The vast, concrete cavern was attracting criticism soon after it opened in 1965, as a grand statement of post-war ambition. And Southwark council has been seeking a developer to transform it for the past 20 years.

That ambition could be realised this week. In 2014, the building was sold to property group Delancey for £80m, and the developer’s proposal for radical change will go before the council’s planning committee on Tuesday. If approval is forthcoming, the centre will be demolished next year. In its place will rise a state-of-the-art complex intended to turn an unfashionable neighbourhood into a destination, and revive the dream to remake the Elephant as a “Piccadilly of the South”.

And one man’s carbuncle is another’s safe haven. The jumble of beauty salons and cafes inside the centre, and the market stalls filling the “Moat” surrounding it, support one of Britain’s largest Latin American communities. There are more than 100 Latin American-owned businesses clustered around the site, a presence that has grown steadily along with London’s Latin population, and dozens are facing displacement or dissolution. Many traders fear that they would struggle in a new location, isolated from their community and established client base. The centre also functions as a support network for Latin immigrants.

The traders are represented by campaigning charity Latin Elephant, including the many non-Latin businesses that share the space. The group’s main aim is to keep the cluster intact through the transformation. 

“There is a consensus that development is good for the area, but we don’t want displacement of existing communities,” says Patria Roman-Velazquez, a sociology lecturer at Loughborough University London and chair of Latin Elephant. ”If this is going to happen we need a fair deal.” 

Roman-Velazquez points to the council’s obligations under the Equalities Act to consider the impact of development on minorities, as well as the elderly and low-income customers who depend on the centre for services and social life. “It’s important to protect these groups and there is a duty to make space available for them,” she says.

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