52 Elephant & Castle homes could lie empty for another two years

52 homes built as part of the Elephant & Castle regeneration programme have been empty for the last five years – and it could be two years or more until residents can move back in.

52 Elephant & Castle homes could lie empty for another two years
The development, known as Arch Street, is on the north side of the New Kent Road, alongside the railway line

First approved in 2008, the Arch Street development was constructed on what used to be green space and a ball court linked to the adjacent Albert Barnes House council block.

The scheme was part of Southwark's so-called 'early housing sites' programme of infill developments of new housing association homes on council estates around the Elephant & Castle, originally intended to provide new homes for tenants displaced from the Heygate Estate but mostly delivered too late to fulfil that purpose.

Completed in 2011 by builders Willmott Dixon, the Arch Street development is owned and managed by housing association L&Q. Its 52 homes were split between 18 social rent flats and 34 homes at a higher 'intermediate rent'.

Designed by architects S333, the building's distinctive orange/brown laminate cladding makes it a prominent landmark well recognised by passengers on passing Thameslink trains and by passengers waiting at the adjacent bus stop.

In March 2019, in the wake of fire safety probes carried out in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, L&Q introduced 24-hour fire marshals in the Arch Street complex, telling residents at the time that "the cladding is not an aluminium composite material (ACM) as used on the Grenfell Tower but is a cladding system that the Government has recently expressed concerns with and has commissioned further testing on".

After two months, in May 2019, the 47 households living at Arch Street at the time were evacuated from the building.

Five years later - apart from the graffiti-covered shops on the ground floor - the building remains empty.

With a court hearing not due for another two years, there seems little prospect of the homes being occupied again any time soon.

β€œWe are continuing our claim against the building warranty provider, professional indemnity insurers of, and companies associated with, the original contractor," David Lewis, executive group director of property services at L&Q, told the SE1 website.

"Unfortunately, the parties were unable to reach agreement through mediation and court proceedings are ongoing with a trial due to take place in 2026.

"We realise this is a lengthy process that will be frustrating for residents. L&Q have therefore offered to buy back the homes of residents who do not wish to return to Arch Street and we will continue to keep residents updated on progress.

"Our residents’ safety and wellbeing will always be our top priority."

We asked L&Q to clarify the current tenure split between tenants and leaseholders at Arch Street, and will update this story if a response is received.

Half a decade after residents moved out, the building looks increasingly run-down

Jerry Flynn of the 35% Campaign, which has long scrutinised housing issues around the Elephant, told us: "Very few Heygate households moved into the new homes they were promised when the Heygate was demolished. 

"To see one of the sites built specifically for them standing empty for so long, and likely to remain empty for even longer, rubs salt into the wound. 

"The responsibility lay with L&Q to sort this out and they have failed to do so. 

"Southwark Council should now step in and use whatever powers it has to make Arch Street  a safe place to live and get these homes occupied."

In a statement, the council told us: "We continue to be very concerned about the future of the block and now meet with L&Q regularly to talk through progress on the case, including any support the council can offer residents.

"This hasn’t been necessary to date as L&Q have arranged alternative housing for all tenants and leaseholders, with many having been permanently rehoused. We sincerely hope that a conclusion is reached as soon as is practically possible.”

Cllr Victor Chamberlain, Southwark Liberal Democrat group leader, said: β€œThe delay in bringing these homes back into use is unacceptable given the depth of the housing crisis in Southwark.

"While we have 1,500 empty council homes in Southwark – the highest in the country – and over 17,700 households on the housing waiting list, we cannot afford to leave another 52 properties empty for seven years.

"People are desperate for good quality housing and cannot wait for protracted mediation processes between providers and contractors.”

Tags: Elephant & Castle, Politics & local government, Southwark, Planning & Development

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