BY TOBY PORTER
Traders have been left reeling after a landmark store closed at a doomed shopping centre.
Tesco in the Elephant and Castle shopping centre shut its Metro outlet last week in a move which has already hit business levels.
Originally a notice a month ago said it was to deal with a mice problem, but the company has now confirmed it will not reopen.
But the erection of a large unsightly hoarding, isolating shops on the second floor, has also damaged shops’ ability to keep their heads above water.
The 8ft high boards surround the bottom of the escalator to the Palaces Bingo and Bowling Hall, which has now closed.
Developers Delancey, which is set to demolish the centre and replace it with nearly 1,000 homes and new shops, claim the barrier is necessary to prevent children getting onto the escalator and becoming a site for antisocial behaviour.
But traders said the hoarding was blighting their trade – and would lead to customers assuming the centre is closing imminently. Local campaign Up the Elephant said: “Independent traders’ businesses are being destroyed by Delancey’s redevelopment plans.
Delancey is failing to mitigate any of the inevitable consequences of the big changes in the area, with either its relocation plans or management of the centre.
“The hoarding on the second floor must be removed and replaced by something more sensible and traders must be relieved of paying service charges immediately; they are obviously getting no value for the money they are paying.”
Jerry Flynn from the 35% Campaign for public housing said: “It beggars belief that a major supermarket in the centre of London has to close its doors permanently, because of mice.”
Tanya Murat from Southwark Defend Council Housing said: “Delancey’s plans for the shopping centre are being challenged in court because they are not providing enough social rented housing.
“They don’t like it and are creating a situation where demolition of the centre is seen as the only option, regardless of the legal outcome.
“Southwark Council should stop opposing the local campaign to get more social rented housing and start properly helping the traders, by taking Delancey to task for all its failures.”
A spokeswoman for Delancey said: “We can confirm Tesco has taken the decision to permanently close its unit in the shopping centre.
“This is a business decision taken by Tesco that we regrettably cannot control. Losing Tesco is a real loss to the centre and we have done all we possibly can to try to keep Tesco trading.
Our centre management team have remained in constant contact with Tesco to offer support and assistance to rectify the issue. However, the decision to close has been made by Tesco’s head office.
“Ensuring the shopping centre remains a safe and welcoming environment for our tenants and their customers is our number one priority, and we will continue to support all traders following the closure of Tesco.”
Delancey have been the landlords of the shopping centre since 2013, when it bought the centre with the express intention of demolition and redevelopment Delancey are obliged by the terms of its “section 106 agreement” with Southwark council to give six months’ notice of the centre’s closure.
Up the Elephant is seeking a judicial review of the planning approval for the redevelopment of the centre, over social rented housing.
The campaign organised a Love the Elephant street celebration on April 14 to show that the community continues to support the traders.
Only 36 traders have been offered temporary or permanent relocation space; 56 traders have received no offer of any space and are facing eviction from the centre if the development goes ahead.
The campaign is demanding that all the traders are offered relocation space on a like for like basis.
More than £7,500 has been has raised through crowdfunding to support the case.
Planning approval was given for the demolition and redevelopment of the shopping centre to the owners Delancey on July 10, 2018, two years after it was submitted in October 2016.
The application generated over 1,000 comments, most objections, and was deferred on three occasions.
The mixed-use development is in partnership with the University of the Arts London and will occupy two sites, including the current London College of Communication as well as the shopping centre, both to be demolished.
The LCC will get a new campus. There will be 979 new Build to Rent homes – 330 will be “affordable”, but only 116 will be social rent.
There will be about the same amount of retail floorspace as at present.
Cllr Kieron Williams, Cabinet Member for Jobs, Skills and Innovation, said: “We were extremely disappointed to hear that Tesco will not reopen in the Elephant and Castle following a temporary closure, inconveniencing local people and causing uncertainty for their staff. We wrote to Tesco and urged them to reconsider but the decision had been made, and so we have asked our employment support team at Southwark Works to work with Tesco to support any staff affected by the current uncertainty.”
Cllr Johnson Situ, Cabinet Member for growth, development and planning, said: “We will continue to respond to the concerns raised by some local residents about aspects of the regeneration, and work with residents, businesses and Delancey to ensure the new development works for local people. The existing shopping centre doesn’t include any housing currently and so the planned development will add to the amount of housing, including affordable housing in the area. Of course, as a council committed to help tackle the housing crisis, we have always pushed for as much affordable housing as possible on this site in addition to the other benefits it will bring.“