London’s Elephant and Castle does not have a particularly indicative name. The area — which is just behind Waterloo and the Southbank — is known to most Londoners for its 1960s housing estates, a much-loved but deteriorating shopping centre and the enormous roundabout at its centre, which is at odds with such a grand, exotic title.

This was not always the case. The neighbourhood fell into decline after the second world war but before then had been an economic and cultural hub — the “Piccadilly Circus of south London” — that, according to one theory, took its name from a local coaching inn’s coat of arms.

Thanks to its location, developers have been focusing on the area. A £3bn redevelopment has placed it at the centre of debates on gentrification and the rise of a “build to rent” housing model, which will lead to the construction of thousands of homes rented out by corporate landlords.

Changes are already happening. The Southwark Playhouse theatre, which is currently housed in old office space, is being integrated into the glass-fronted ground floor of Uncle Elephant & Castle, the tallest tower of rental housing in the UK. With on-site bars and cafés, Uncle’s ready-made neighbourhood (or “Uncle Love”, as it prefers to be called) comes at a premium: one-bedroom flats start at £1,800 per month, 10 per cent higher than the local average, according to Zoopla. “The phrase for [the area] at the minute is ‘up and coming’, ” says Ian Bates, manager of Chase Evans in Elephant and Castle. Bates says the developments around the shopping centre are “the last piece of the puzzle to turn this area into the next Shoreditch”, an area synonymous with gentrification.

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While “Uncle Love” might have given Southwark Playhouse a permanent home for the first time in 25 years, for most of Elephant and Castle’s current population — including one of the largest Latin American communities in London — the new apartments are having the opposite effect.

Close to 4,000 social housing units have already been demolished in the area, with many residents forced to move to suburbs more than 10km away.

In Delancey’s developments, out of 979 new units there are 116 homes at social rent (a figure which was upped after campaigners protested against the original proposal for 33), while Lendlease’s “affordable” apartments start at £595,000 for a one-bedroom flat and go up to £1.66m for a three-bedroom unit.

Tanya Murton of the “Up the Elephant” campaign crowdfunding for a judicial review to freeze Delancey’s scheme, says the plans are “designed for a population that Delancey wants to attract to the area, rather than for people already here”.

The new crowd are mainly young professionals and overseas students, a demographic shift that has been noticed by existing residents. “We can see it in our street,” says Toby Brundin, who has lived in the area since 2005. “The number of kids in the street has diminished.”

But some locals are excited for the plans. John Otagburuagu, of Black Cowboy Coffee and Waffles, runs one of the many eclectic stalls around the shopping centre. In the redeveloped mall, traders’ rents are expected to increase. But for Otagburuagu, it is a necessary step. “Change costs money,” he says. “The area is going to be thriving in the future.”

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Black Cowboy coffee stall © Daniel Lynch/Evening Standard/eyevine

Local homeowners are among those who could gain. Due to the small size of Elephant and Castle, sales data can be spikey, but property prices are clearly growing rapidly: in the past 10 years, average house prices have risen 76 per cent to almost £474,000, according to Hamptons International. In Bermondsey, which is larger — and where prices were higher than in Elephant and Castle a decade ago — they have grown 50 per cent over the same period.

Even so, prices are cheaper than in other central areas. In Grade II-listed West Square, Winkworth is selling a four-bedroom house for £2.45m; a similar home in Clerkenwell might cost another £1m. At the top of the market, estate agent McMahon and Partners is selling a new three-bedroom penthouse apartment for £3.75m. At One the Elephant, a residential tower opposite the shopping centre, the same agent is selling a one-bedroom apartment for £635,000.

Brundin worries that London is following cities such as Paris, “where the working class is exiled to the outer periphery and the centre becomes the preserve of the rich”. The result, he says, is a situation where “if you’re in a lower-income job you also have to commute two hours on the bus, which adds to the social division”.

Three-bedroom penthouse apartment, £3.75m

Buying guide

  • Elephant and Castle is in the London borough of Southwark, where the top rate of council tax is £2,774 per year
  • In the small area of Elephant and Castle, there were 63 property transactions in the first three-quarters of 2018, up from 43 in the same period in 2017 — but still lower than the three years previously
  • The City of London is a five-minute Tube ride from Elephant and Castle
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What you can buy for . . .

£475,000 A one-bedroom apartment near Kennington Lane
£750,000 A two-bedroom apartment in a new housing development
£2.5m A penthouse apartment in a new luxury tower

More homes at

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