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Elephant and Castle

Background to the Elephant Park development site

Once heralded as the Piccadilly of the South, Elephant and Castle town centre was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War.

A dense area of Victorian housing, to the west of the railway station, suffered particular damage during the Blitz and even those houses which survived intact were in poor condition by the time the war ended. As a consequence, the London County Council (LCC) took the decision to buy up the land for redevelopment, including the empty bomb sites and the remaining housing.

Rebuilding began in the 60s in the Modernist style; this included the Heygate housing estate, which was completed in 1974. By this time the LCC had been dissolved and the land, housing and associated buildings became the responsibility of the London Borough of Southwark.

The estate’s design was based on the idea that most residents would own a car. A series of interconnected “streets in the sky” were built for pedestrians; creating more room for motor traffic at ground level. The original concept (never fully realised) envisaged that these aerial walkways would link the Heygate estate in the north with the Aylesbury estate in the south. Pedestrians would be able to walk all the way from New Kent Road to Burgess Park without ever touching the ground.

While most of the original tenants who moved into the new estate were delighted with their sleek new apartments, fitted out with all the latest mod cons, the ideals of the modernist design didn’t stand the test of time. Removing the traditional, historic street pattern, that people were accustomed to, proved disorientating and the new, elevated walkways were unpopular and underused. With low footfall and poor natural surveillance, in time, the walkways had the effect of exacerbating crime and anti-social behaviour.

In the 90s, Southwark Council investigated options to improve the estate, including refurbishing the buildings which were already showing significant signs of wear and tear. The work, costed at £53m, would have improved the condition of the housing and the servicing infrastructure but the fundamental problems - linked to the impermeable layout of the estate and the intimidating high level walkways - would have remained. So, in 1998, the council decided to explore options to redevelop the estate instead.

From the outset, the council committed to build a series of early affordable housing developments, in and around Elephant and Castle, before any redevelopment of the estate began. This would give many Heygate tenants the opportunity to relocate elsewhere in the neighbourhood (if they wanted to) long before the estate became due for demolition.

In 1998, the council carried out a consultation on options for redevelopment. 500 responses were received, 96 per cent of which favoured a major regeneration scheme. With this in mind, the council bid for government Single Regeneration Budget funding and secured £25m to help support a programme to transform social, economic and environmental conditions in the area.

In 2002, the newly formed Greater London Authority (GLA) began work on the first London Plan which identified several opportunity areas for growth in the city. One of these areas was Elephant and Castle. The boundaries of the area can be seen on the regeneration map.

In 2004, in order to provide a planning framework to guide the redevelopment of the newly designated opportunity area, the council prepared supplementary planning guidance (SPG). Central to the SPG’s guiding principles was a desire to restore much of the old street pattern which was lost when the Heygate estate was built. This would reconnect the Heygate site to Elephant and Castle’s town centre, re-establish the ‘missing’ section of Walworth Road and return footfall, life and natural surveillance to ground level.

Another objective of the SPG was to create mixed and balanced communities by replacing affordable homes – which would be lost from redeveloping the Heygate estate - with new affordable homes in mixed developments across the whole opportunity area rather than in another, large, single-tenure housing estate.

Following extensive consultation and a public inquiry as part of the Southwark Plan, the SPG was adopted. Crucially, the plan included the allocation of early affordable housing sites throughout Elephant and Castle. This allocation enabled the council to procure Registered Social Landlord partners to build the early (affordable) housing. In total, 650 new affordable homes were built. 525 of these have since been let at social rent (the same level as comparable council housing).

In 2007, the council carried out an EU procurement process and selected Lend Lease (now renamed Lendlease) to redevelop the estate in a joint-venture arrangement with the council.

The 2008 financial crisis necessitated a renegotiation of the contract with Lendlease, which was finally completed in 2010. Lendlease’s original viability assessment for the scheme had proposed that 11 per cent of the new homes to built on the site of the Heygate estate would be affordable housing. The council managed to renegotiate an increase to 25 per cent.

The joint-venture deal also included a payment to the council, upfront, as well as an ‘overage’ arrangement whereby the council will receive a share of any profit made from the scheme, over and above that originally forecast by Lendlease.

Staying in Southwark

In 2007 the council introduced choice based lettings as a borough-wide method for allocating council housing. The new system, based on banding, was designed to make the whole allocation process much more open and transparent.

As part of the rehousing process (ahead of redevelopment) Heygate estate residents were given band 1 status - the highest priority for relocation. They were entitled to bid for any available council property in Southwark, including the early affordable housing homes, built specifically for Heygate estate residents, in and around Elephant and Castle.

The Heygate estate had 1,212 homes. 1,020 of the 1,212 homes were owned by the council and 192 were in private ownership (having been purchased by former council tenants under the government’s Right to Buy scheme). The council stopped letting homes in the Heygate estate in 2001.

In 2005, 595 council homes on the estate had tenants, all of whom were given band 1 priority to relocate. 99 per cent of the relocated tenants opted to stay in Southwark. The map below shows where they moved to. Whilst all the tenants were offered the chance to stay in Elephant and Castle, many made the choice to move to other parts of Southwark. All tenants were also offered the right to return.

Re-housing Heygate Estate Tenants

People who owned their own homes on the Heygate estate (leaseholders) were offered compensation in accordance with the statutory land compensation code.

You can read more about the Compulsory Purchase Order here.

The council recognised that, for some, this might not be adequate to enable them to remain in the area, and additional assistance was provided. This included an offer of 20 homes in the Strata building, on a shared ownership basis, that a number of leaseholders took up. The council also offered leaseholders (who qualified) with shared ownership tenure in council homes and offered the least wealthy leaseholders the chance to become full council tenants again.

In 2011/12 extensive consultation on a planning application for the new development was carried out. Part of the response was to amend the original designs to save as many of the existing mature trees, within the estate, as possible.  

A planning application was submitted in April 2012 and was determined by the council’s planning committee in January 2013. The planning application approved 3,000 new homes, 50 shops, restaurants, cafes, office space, a new energy centre and public realm.

One of the main objectives of the masterplan was to form new connections with surrounding streets and green spaces, creating a neighbourhood that was easier to navigate, particularly on foot (something that had been lost when the Heygate estate was built in the 70s).

The public realm covers just under half of the total masterplan area and includes streets, squares and parks for the whole community to use. This includes one of the largest new parks to be built in central London in decades.

Demolition of the estate was completed in July 2014 and construction on Lendlease’s new development, Elephant Park, began. The council remains the freeholder for the former Heygate land and has granted the developer a long lease to facilitate the regeneration.

A public consultation helped to name the proposed new streets and buildings. Many of the names chosen commemorate people associated with the area, while others hark back to the old, historic street names. One of the first new streets, O’Callaghan Way, was named after Private Lee O’Callaghan. Lee, who had lived on the Heygate estate, lost his life on active service during the 2004 Iraq War.

The first phase of the development to complete (in 2015) was the 235 home Trafalgar Place, between Rodney Place and Balfour Street.

Fifty-six of the new homes at Trafalgar Place are affordable homes, built in a tenure-blind layout (meaning there’s nothing to distinguish between the private and social housing). The scheme also included a new street, Paragon Way, which connects directly to Henshaw Street. The project won the Mayor of London’s overall planning award for the best new development in London in 2016 and was shortlisted for the prestigious Stirling Prize.

In 2016, Lendlease opened the Construction Skills Centre at Elephant Park. The centre is committed to training 1,000 local residents every year and, so far, has helped 927 local people find work on the Elephant Park construction site, 416 of whom were previously unemployed.

By 2025, at least 1,693 new affordable homes will have been built in the Elephant and Castle opportunity area (since 2001).

You can find more information about the regeneration of Elephant and Castle here

Find more information about the latest phases of the Elephant Park construction here.

Page last updated: 08 April 2021

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