Its demolition and transformation have been a long-running and controversial saga, with some viewing it as the ultimate sign of social cleansing – with poorer citizens and smaller businesses pushed out to make way for something more friendly to young professionals and hipsters – while supporters argue it's essential to improve the area.
A short walk from the station and the mammoth shopping centre demolition site is Elephant Park, where another large regeneration project is underway courtesy of well-known development firm Lendlease.
A few weeks ago, PIT was invited along for a tour of the area to understand what Elephant Park is doing differently and what locals and residents can expect once the scheme has fully completed.
A new community
Before we head to Lendlease’s offices to start the tour, the PIT team first stops by Castle Square – a small, Boxpark-like shopping and food area with a fantastic array of independent shops, cafes and food outlets on offer across three floors.
The wooden-style structure, home to 26 local traders, sits just a minute from the railway arch of Elephant & Castle station and only five minutes from the Tube. Sitting atop Castle Square is the iconic Elephant & Castle statue, which previously had pride of place outside the shopping centre and was unveiled at its new home – accompanied by a big party put on by locals – in June this year.
The retail outlets on offer reflect the fantastic diversity of the area, which has long been home to significant populations from Latin and South America, the Caribbean and West Africa, among other places. There is everything from El Guambra (a family-run restaurant offering Ecuadorian cuisine) and Daddy O’s (African dishes) to La Bodeguita (traditional Colombian) and Original Caribbean Spice (specialists in Caribbean meals including jerk chicken and oxtail and makers of legendary Caribbean punch).
Castle Square is also home to hair salons, clothing and fashion stores, repair shops and a grocery – providing a great place for locals to get their lunch, a haircut or their phone fixed.
After some considerable difficulty in deciding, we eventually settle upon Kaieteur Kitchen, experts in Caribbean flavour. Faye Gomes has been cooking Guyana’s most popular dishes since 2003, including the ‘Pepper pot’ served with Spanish rice, and her kitchen offers a variety of homemade food including oxtail, okra, fish, curry chicken and fried chicken, all served with large mounds of spinach rice and plantain. We also get treated to some delicious free Caribbean punch while we wait for our orders to be cooked fresh.
“We’ve been here almost a year now,” Gomes tells us. “It is great, but we need the council to tell more people about us. People don’t know we’re here. They need signs up at the station, at the Tube, to tell visitors about us, so they can find us here.”
Following a very hefty meal washed down with some lovely mango punch, eaten in the public seating area immediately outside Castle Square, we leisurely head towards Lendlease’s Elephant Park offices and quickly get our first look at the area – a large central park, full of greenery, sandpits and play areas, surrounded on all sides by buildings and building works.
The day we visit is cloudy but relatively warm, and there are plenty of kids enjoying the park in the afternoon in the week before they head back to school. Just to the right of the offices are a variety of apartment blocks with retail use at the bottom. One of these is already occupied by Four Quarters, a favourite venue for gamers and those nostalgic for the arcade games of the 80s and 90s (think Pacman, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Kart), while the other venues are ready to be occupied soon.
At the offices, we meet with Kristy Lansdown – Lendlease’s project director for Elephant Park – and Harriet Sutton, senior communications manager at Lendlease Europe, who give us the guided tour of the ongoing scheme.
What does Elephant Park include?
It’s described as a new residential and retail area for South London, offering the convenience of living in Zone 1.
It’s centred around a new park and aims to unite ‘creative independents, inventive local food traders from the far corners of the world, and high street gems alongside a spirit of fun and adventure’.
Once complete, in 2025, it’s expected that Elephant Park will offer 3,000 new homes across a range of tenures, from Build to Rent to for sale. There will also be space for more than 50 new shops, restaurants and cafés, and the planting of over 1,300 new trees.
Situated to the East of Walworth Road, the scheme is designed to breathe ‘new life into this historic area’ and create ‘thousands of high-quality new homes, jobs, business opportunities and green space for Londoners’.
One of the scheme’s most impressive areas, which is crucially open to the public, is a spectacular water playground carved from natural stone, which was launched in June 2021. Elephant Springs is a natural stone and water landscape which boasts waterfalls, undulating slides, sandy bays and ambient lighting.
It aims to be a place of rest, relaxation, play and delight for all, and was constructed entirely from 600 colourful porphyry stone slabs, sourced from a quarry in the Albiano region of Italy. Water naturally bubbles up from Elephant Springs’ rock formations and the stones blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.
Sustainability at the forefront
Elephant Park has long placed a focus on sustainability and its green credentials to set it apart from other major new developments. But what does this actually mean in practice?
With Elephant Park, Lendlease’s ambition has always been to set new standards for sustainable urban development, and it aims to be the first climate-positive development by 2025. This would make it among the most sustainable inner-city urban regeneration projects in the world.
To do so, it says it’s working closely with an array of sustainable businesses to elevate one of life’s everyday anxieties for residents and visitors alike – allowing them to live a guilt-free, eco-friendly life.
Of particularly high importance has been reducing waste during the construction process of Elephant Park, with this part of the process typically a big carbon emitter. It says that 98% of any waste generated during the construction is being recovered and diverted from landfill, while Elephant Park has retained over 120 mature trees from the area, and planted a further 1,300 new ones, helping to mitigate climate change and air pollution.
Elephant Park has set a target to be a Net Zero carbon community in operation by 2025, eventually reaching absolute Zero Carbon, Scopes 1, 2 and 3, by 2040.
Meanwhile, public spaces are lit up using renewable energy and, upon completion, there is set to be over 90 new cycle-hire bikes, more than 3,000 bicycle spaces, and new pedestrian and cycle routes. Dedicated charging ports for electric vehicles will also be available for use.
Kristy and Harriet take us in the direction of one of Elephant Park’s USPs, its Energy Hub, which includes a combined heat and power plant that will deliver low carbon, heat and hot water to residents and businesses across Elephant Park. It will also have the capacity to connect into a further 1,000 homes across the Elephant & Castle Opportunity Area.
The Energy Hub is vital to Lendlease’s ambition to make Elephant Park one of the most sustainable urban regeneration projects in the world, and also doubles up as a community venue with integrated uses such as a café and early years nursery.
It may seem like a weird paradox to have one of the most sustainable developments in the world in the heart of London, very close to one of the capital’s busiest and loudest junctions, but it arguably makes Elephant Park even more important in offsetting the pollution and damage to the environment done by the cars, taxis and buses powering through Elephant & Castle on a daily basis.
And, fortunately, much of the noise and chaos of the road junction are lost in and around the areas where the scheme is taking place. There is ongoing building work for the next stage of Elephant Park and the major job taking place at the shopping centre, but these don’t prove too distracting in the main.
Giving local retailers a new home
One of the most controversial aspects of the shopping centre demolition was the question of where the traders who had been operating there for years would be rehoused.
One place for some of the food retailers has been Sayer Street, which forms part of the scheme’s planned more than 100,000 sq ft of retail, leisure and affordable space. The narrow road, off to the left of the central park, is home to the likes of Bobo Social, Koi Ramen Bar, Tasty Jerk, Pot & Rice, Miko’s and zero plastic Italian restaurant SUGO.
Even on a Thursday afternoon in late summer, after lunch and before evening dining begins, it is busy and lively with people enjoying meals al-fresco.
The final part of the tour sees us end up by The Tap In – a quirky sports bar and bottleshop which has managed to thrive despite the pandemic – and the MMY Elephant Park, a tie-up between Elephant Park and modern market behemoth Mercato Metropolitano to provide a market/deli offering artisanal grocery products, fresh pasta, authentic dim sum, Italian gelato and local free-range meat. This autumn, Mercato will be opening its urban production centre at Elephant Park – ‘a unique and immersive food experience where locals and visitors can meet its producers and enjoy deliciously fresh products’.
There may still be issues when it comes to affordability and accessibility at schemes like Elephant Park – and the dilemma about how to regenerate while not pushing out local residents and poorer communities will continue to rage. But from a sustainability point of view, and in terms of keeping the area’s history in mind as they build, Lendlease appear to have got it right with Elephant Park.
Whether it can lay claim to being one of the most sustainable schemes in the world will likely only become clearer by the time it completes fully in 2025, but any scheme heavily pushing sustainability is welcome in the fight back against the climate crisis.