Eileen House on 80-94 Newington Causeway, a 1960s office building, has now been empty for years. Its redevelopment has been subject to a protracted and contested debate between Southwark Council, Oakmayne developers, local residents, the famous nightclub "Ministry of Sound" (located opposite Eileen House) and - the mayor of London.
After numerous months of haggling and bureaucratic warfare, it's time to reclaim Eileen house for the public and the interests of the Elephant's residents! As a self-organised social space, we propose radical alternatives, serving the needs of the many vibrant and organic communities around E&C!
The Oakmayne development application - Who cares about the Elephant?
Originally, Oakmayne proposed a 44 storey building, designed by Allies and Morrison, containing nearly 400 flats (85 of them social housing), another adjacent 8-storey building, parking spaces and some public realm improvement, such as a resident's garden and a university square. After the Palace of Westminster World Heritage Site intervened, claiming that such a huge tower would radically alter London's skyline, the height was reduced to 128 meters (41 storeys).
Yet, out of the 335 flats, only 80 were supposed to be in the category of social rent - that is only half of the 35% percent Southwark Council requests. Furthermore, all of these units are supposed to be in the category of shared ownership, none in social rent; while the policy requests a 50/50 balance.
Now, due to the prolonged process and "extra costs" because of transport and infrastructure improvements, the number of social housing units has been further reduced to 65 units only! Considering that Oakmayne will probably make hundreds of millions of profit with the regeneration scheme for Eileen House, this is beyond a joke! Not enough, the planning proposal also fails to meet the policies for a mix of housing sizes, leading to a lack of 2-bed and 3-bed units. Nearly half of all the units will either be studios or 1 bed units - a clear indicator for what kind of residents the developers expect.
So far, most local residents have opposed the scheme, saying that there are already too many oppressive towers in the area, that high housing prices will marginalise the local communities, harm small shops in favour of corporate business and that it will impact negatively on the overall quality of the area. Communities are not built high up in the sky, but around open spaces, parks, local shops, restaurants and public leisure centres. The many empty residential units for sale in the case of the Strata, another Elephant high-rise tower, show: people don't want to live in anonymous biggies, alienated from their neighbours and their environment.
But given all this, the Oakmayne proposal is just another significant step towards a "grand gateway" into the Elephant on Newington Causeway - an Elephant for the well-off, not an Elephant for its communities.
The Planning Development Process - Who cares about democracy?
The first Oakmayne proposal for the current plan was submitted to Southwark authorities in October 2011 - and rejected, because of the application not complying with several local development policies, such as affordable housing, height of tall buildings, quality of residential development etc. The debate was escalated by the intervention of Ministry of Sound night club, which opposes the scheme due to quite different reasons: the residential tower would probably result in the closure of the club. It should be added that some questions have been raised about the MoS donating considerable sums of money to the Lib Dems, whose councillors finally opposed the planning application.
However, as the Mayor claims Eileen House affects his wider Plan for London, Boris Johnson took hold of the process and announced he was going to make a decision on the planning application, overriding the local authorities. So far, this is the sixth time that Boris has used these executive powers and has always granted planning permission in the past.
A public consultation period is now going on, resulting in a public hearing where the decision will be announced, on the 26th of February, in the City Hall at 6.30pm
As such, Boris is completely shunning the local authorities and their legitimate concerns about the megalomania of the project. Although the Southwark Council has massively accelerated gentrification through granting applications in the past, for once they had the stamina to say NO to developers' profit interests and unaffordable housing. Sadly enough, this little gleam of hope was quickly extinguished: "Big money appears to have stomped all over another aspect of representative democracy" (Councillor James Barber, Liberal Democrats).
And even more menacing, Eileen House is not the only biggie of the new Elephant "Gateway": another two blocs on Newington Causeway - proposed by Neobrand and Hollybrook - will dominate the area in the foreseeable future; one of them has already been granted permission by Southwark Council.
Eileen House - a self-organised social space
If this is what Southwark Council and the Mayor's Plan for London is about, we can only say: London, self-organise! We, a group of social centre collectives, together with many other local initiatives and local residents, refuse to accept rip-off housing and social cleansing under the guise of regeneration! Instead of luxury flats and fancy office towers, we propose a radical and free space for community self-organisation in Eileen House!
We would love to create a vibrant community centre for as long as we can that which will serve the true needs of the Elephant's residents. Our space is open to use for all groups, initiatives and individuals that seek to provide alternative services to the community (people's kitchen, clothes swap, education, music and art) or need social space for local projects, self-organisation and collective action that benefits residents. It is open to locals and Londoners and who want to pop in for a tea, discuss matters, attend our events or just have a good chat!