Protest at Lendlease Elephant & Castle showroom: “the ruins of the Heygate will come back to haunt you”
Lendlease is certainly not the only developer doing lucrative gentrification deals with city authorities. But not many manage to pull off such breathtaking schemes on opposite sides of the world at once. The Elephant & Castle (London) and Barangaroo (Sydney) developments are both textbook examples of ‘development creep’: in which an initially “public interest” project morphs over time into a private profit goldmine. Here we recap a few key features in both deals:
1) Win people over. This stage involves architects and consultants working with the local authority and carrying out public consultation, to draw up people-friendly proposals including improved public space, social housing and other amenities. Anyone objecting at this point can be made to look paranoid.
In Barangaroo: the original plan launched in 2005 featured over 50% public park including the whole shoreline, and no buildings over 92 metres.
In Elephant: the 2004 masterplan featured 1,200 “social rented” homes to replace the number on the Heygate Estate, as well as a new theatre, museum, library and secondary school.
2) Make gradual changes. Once the developer is appointed, the initial plan is changed to make more money. Changes can be introduced gradually, one ‘creeping’ step at a time. It is near impossible now to get rid of the developer.
In Barangaroo: there have been eight waves of proposed modifications, between them almost doubling the amount of saleable floorspace, dramatically reducing the public space, and adding three luxury residential towers and a skyscraper casino-hotel.
In Elephant: the actual Lendlease scheme now only has 74 social rented flats plus 500 at so-called “affordable” rents. The theatre, museum, library and school are forgotten – but there is a hipster “box park”.
3) Batter down the arguments. There are numerous ways changes can be justified, and whole teams of consultants may be employed writing lengthy reports to do so. For example, changes may be necessary for “financial viability”. Also, developers and authorities may back down on a few of the more outrageous proposals, which makes it seem like resisters have won concessions and developers are being reasonable.
In Barangaroo: Lendlease’s first big shock was proposing a skyscraper hotel built into the bay itself, against public shoreline planes. They backed down on this plan after serious opposition resistance – before introducing the even bigger casino-hotel proposal, albeit away from the shoreline.
In Elephant: the viability assessment, released after a three year legal battle, showed affordable housing cuts were based on the “need” to give Lendlease a 25% profit on the deal.
4) Get the politicians on side. But ultimately, it’s not moaning residents who make the decisions, but their elected leaders. They can even change rules or grant special exemptions if necessary.
In Barangaroo: not only planning and affordable housing policies, but regulations on gambling, smoking and late night drinking, were changed or exempted for the Lendlease scheme.
In Elephant: Southwark council’s rules on 35% affordable housing were repeatedly overidden by council bodies, including allowing zero affordable housing in the “One The Elephant” tower which made Lendlease over £70 million profit.
5) Make friends in every party. The process takes years, and political power can change hands in the meantime, so clever developers may aim to win over politicians from different sides.
In Barangaroo: Australia’s Labour Party lost the New South Wales election in 2011, ceding control to the Liberal Party. Their leader Barry O’Farrell promised a review of the development, which called for some minor amendments but left the planning approvals unchanged. Bridie Jabour, writing in The Guardian, has documented how Lendlease’s casino-mogul partner James Packer of Crown Resorts has employed NSW Labour figures Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib as lobbyists, while appointing former Liberal senator Helen Coonan to the Crown board.
In Elephant: Lendlease was first selected by a Liberal Democrat council under leader Nick Stanton and deputy leader Kim Humphreys – both of whom have since got jobs as property development consultants. Then Labour leader Peter John slammed the deal as “little more than throwing Heygate residents out of their homes and building new luxury housing which they won’t be able to afford.” Then, a few months after Labour took over in 2010, John himself signed off on the Lendlease scheme. He has since faced investigation for accepting an undeclared gift from Lendlease.
Extracted from much longer Corporate Watch article. Read the full piece here: https://corporatewatch.org/lendlease-development-creeps/