STUDENTS at University of Arts London (UAL) are in indefinite occupation of London College of Communications (LCC) in Southwark to oppose Elephant & Castle (E&C) ‘gentrification’.
The occupation started on Tuesday night to protest against UAL’s partnership with the company the occupiers call ‘tax-avoiding offshore developer Delancey’ in a plan to knock down the Elephant and Castle shopping centre – home to 70 local and mostly BME (black and minority ethnic)-owned businesses and replace it with luxury housing and a new LCC campus.
The plan was rejected by Southwark Council’s Planning Committee on 16th January by four votes to three, but since then UAL and Delancey have stated that they plan to fight for another vote on the plan up until the council meeting on 30th January where ‘Reasons for Refusal will be decided’.
This is despite the fact that all unions at UAL (Unison, GMB, UCU, Arts SU) have passed motions censuring the plan, as well as widespread dissatisfaction with the plan among UAL students and the E&C community.
Sahaya James, Campaigns Officer at Arts SU, said: ‘UAL’s complicity in the gentrification of Southwark renders meaningless its supposed commitments to social responsibility and widening participation.
‘As the key partner in Delancey’s proposal, UAL has the ability to amplify the demands of the community, push for vital social housing and affordable retail spaces and stop these plans in their current form. UAL must stop supporting gentrification and back out of this disastrous plan.’
Speaking to News Line from inside the occupation yesterday, one of the occupiers said: ‘They are knocking down the shopping centre which is home to 70 business, all locally owned, many by BME people from the area.
‘The plan is to replace the shopping centre with 1,000 units of housing, 970 of which will be unaffordable, luxury housing and they have only committed to build 30 affordable homes and that is the legal definition rather than really affordable.
‘That is way below Southwark Council’s own 35% rule for social rent housing. They have only managed to get round that by “art washing” – a prestigious arts university is using its reputation to to allow a predatory property developer to get round normal planning standards.
‘There are about 15 of us inside. Spirits are high. UAL management have committed to not using physical force to end the occupation but they have restricted movement of students involved. We are carrying on and will be running a programme of workshops and teach-ins up until 30th. We are being well supplied with food and we have very widespread support.’