Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre traders are appealing to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan for support to save their businesses as the centre is about to close for demolition.
The old and decrepit shopping centre will finally close on 24 September and new landlord Delancey will carry out a regeneration project in the area.
When Egyptian Emad Megahi, 51, and some of the Elephant traders met Delancey in 2013, he claims he was told the developers didn’t believe they would fit in the wider picture and that the best thing would be to move somewhere else.
No promises of relocation nor compensation for the future loss of their businesses were made, remembers Emad.
Emad’s rent for his computer repair business shop went overnight from £8,000 to £15,000 a year.
The traders decided to stay because they had been working there for years, some even for decades.
They waited for six years until Delancey agreed to reduce their rent by 80% in November 2019 and when the Covid-19 crisis began the full rent and service charges were waived too.
Thanks to the support of campaign groups Up the Elephant and Latin Elephant among others, traders understood their rights as displaced traders and Delancey agreed to come up with a £634,700 relocation fund, according to Emad.
Only 79 independent traders qualified for the relocation fund.
From these traders, only 61 applications were approved for relocation spaces in properties owned by the Elephant and Castle Town Centre or by Southwark Council in Castle Square, Ash Avenue and Elephant Arcade, located very close to the shopping centre.
As the Delancey fund was not enough, in April this year Southwark Council, in favour of the regeneration scheme, approved an additional £200,000 fund for the traders.
So is all this money really enough?
For Jerry Flynn of Up the Elephant, it isn’t because when the amount is divided by the traders, it won’t cover the costs of moving into their new premises. Besides, the money distribution will depend on the size of their shops.
He said: “The developer is hoping to make something like £140 million out of this development. It’s a lot of money. There should be more of that money for the traders.”
Emad will be compensated with almost £6,000 and a much smaller unit in Elephant Arcade, formerly an unused car park turned into retail space, on London Road.
He knows it’s not enough, but considers himself lucky because there are more than 40 traders being left in the lurch without offers of a relocation site and without other sources of income, despite promises from Delancey, according to Latin Elephant.
They have recently sent a proposal to the Mayor of London suggesting their stalls are sited around the Faraday Memorial, close to the shopping centre, so they can maintain the ‘sense of place’ they created.
Jerry says if accepted “it would provide shopping options and continuity to a local community facing a prolonged period of disruption and construction work.”
Al Hassan Kamara, 42, an Elephant trader for more than 10 years and father of two kids, said: “Til now we still don’t have a space, we don’t know what the future holds for us.”
Nassim Cheraitia, 53, from Algeria, has been selling mobile phones and accessories for more than 20 years. He said: “Delancey and Southwark Council gave us some money. For me, it’s pocket money.
“What is £3,000? It’s nothing. I lost a business here. This is my living. I’ve got three kids, a wife to support.”
Southwark Council and Delancey reject the information on social media describing them as ‘simply inaccurate’.
For them, it is only 18 traders out of the 79 who didn’t engage in the application process.
Thirteen of them have access to a database of available properties and guidance from Tree Shepherd, Delancey’s advisor.
The remaining five businesses have either moved on outside of the area or stopped trading for personal reasons.
Delancey and Southwark Council said: “There are market traders under the belief they will be offered a property. This is not correct and has never been a commitment from the Elephant and Castle Town Centre team or the Council.
“Many of the businesses being cited by third parties did not qualify, did not apply to move or they have left (in some cases a long time ago).
“Those market traders who have not found space will receive £8,000 each from the relocation funds.”
Following the demolition kicking off in October, Delancey will build a new Tube station, a new building for the London College of Communication of UAL, 979 homes and a new shopping centre of which 10% will offer affordable rents.