An amazing thing happened this week. The plans to redevelop Elephant and Castle shopping centre and the surrounding area by tax-avoiding, Tory-supporting property developer Delancey and London College of Communication/University of the Arts London where rejected (subject to confirmation on 30th January 2018) by Southwark Council’s planning committee. The victory was due to local people and students and some local councillors who fought hard to point out the losses to already eroded but still existing community assets, the loss of housing, the loss of trading opportunities, the loss of leisure, the loss of heritage, the loss of space, that this blatant act of social cleansing would bring about if passed. It is understandable that arch-capitalists Delancey (owned by the notorious father and son property development partnership, the Ritblats) aren’t interested in local people and local communities, but what’s with LCC/UAL? Why would a top arts and design institution behave so aggressively to existing community members? The connections between the Ritblats and the Vice Chancellor of UAL are interesting. They reveal how the corporate takeover of high education and the arts are intersecting with the corporate takeover of our communities and our land. Let’s have a look at the people involved…
John Ritblat bought British Land – a major UK property company - in 1970, retiring as chairman and CEO in 2006 but remaining honorary president. His son, Eton educated Jamie Ritblat, worked for John until 1995 when he left and set up Delancey. Jamie’s father is Chair of the Advisory Board and it is highly likely John Ritblat is a major shareholder in Delancey alongside his son – this is difficult to prove because all the Delancey companies and its numerous subsidiaries are all ultimately registered in the British Virgin Islands – a tax haven. They also own Alpha Plus Group – private schools for the privileged elite. Little surprise then that these tax-avoiding property developers and private school propagators are both major donors to the Tory party.
Delancey bought the Olympic Village in Stratford in a bargain deal in partnership with Qatari Diar in 2011. It is likely the seeds of this deal were sewn when John Ritblat was appointed to the Tory Olympics Oversight Committee. But the deal was cemented just months after Jamie Ritblat donated £50,000 to the Tories. The deal led to a £275 million loss for taxpayers. Delancey are making millions of pounds of profits from the purchase, now rebranded as East Village. Delancey are also behind the Here East development on the ex-Olympics Park site in Stratford. Here East is described by Delancey as ‘a home for the creative and digital industries’. The ‘campus’ is already home to BT Sport, Loughborough University in London, University College London, Signal Noise, Studio Wayne McGregor, Ford, Space Studios and Infinity SDC.
The Ritblats are also heavily interested in higher education and arts and culture. John is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wallace Collection, was Chairman of the Governing Body of The London Business School and is an Honorary Fellow and currently a member of the Estates Committee, a Member of the Council of The Royal Institution, Honorary President of The British Ski & Snowboard Federation, Deputy Chairman of The Royal Academy of Music and an Honorary Fellow, Hon. Fellow of The Royal Institute of The British Architects (RIBA). John is also Vice Chairman of The International Students House. Furthermore, he was also John was re-appointed to the Board of the British Library in 2015, having sat on the Board previously between 1995 and 2003. He sponsors “The Sir John Ritblat Gallery, Treasures of The British Library”. And, John Ritblat is also a trustee of Tate Foundation alongside his wife.
John’s wife, Lady Ritblat) is a trustee of the Design Museum, a member of the Committee of Honour of the Royal Academy of Music, a Trustee of the Garden Museum, a Council Member of the Royal College of Art, a Board member of the Wallace Collection International Council. As well as her trustee role at Tate Foundation, Lady Ritblat was also Chairman of the Tate Patrons of New Art and Vice-Chairman of the Tate International Council. She has also been a Turner Prize judge and was Vice Chair of Board of New Contemporaries until recently. Alongside a long list of other arts connections, serial fashion collector Lady Ritblat donated a large part of her collection of contemporary costumes to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Like his father and stepmother, Jamie Ritblat likes to get himself involved in the arts and higher education. He’s a member of Kings College London’s College Council and chair of KCL’s Estates Strategy Committee. Jamie is also a member of the Southbank Centre’s board of governors.
Clearly the Ritblats are VERY well connected. Yet, what’s the connection with the London College of Communication? Why are the LCC so keen to defend Delancey and their planned destruction of Elephant and Castle shopping centre and surrounding communities? The answer lies in the seemingly benign International Students House. It is here that Vice Chancellor of the University of Arts London (of which LCC is a part) Nigel Carrington was a long-term board member, serving alongside John Ritblat. Nigel is Oxford educated and has a background in commerce and law. As well as being Vice Chancellor of UAL, he’s also Chairman of the Henry Moore Foundation, a Director of the Creative Industries Federation, a Trustee of The English Concert, the chair of trustees at Burgh House & Hampstead Museum, a member of the Board at Universities UK and, crucially, a Governor of International Students House.
It is also worth noting that current UAL Chairman of the Court of Governors, Sir John Sorrell, set up the Creative Industries Federation alongside Nigel Carrington. He remains an ambassador for CIF. He’s also a trustee of the V&A.
So, Nigel Carrington and the Riblats have very strong connections that extend beyond the gentrification of Elephant and Castle. Is that why LLC are so keen to support Delancey’s ill-conceived and violent regeneration plans? Is this another example of the establishment old boys network? “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”? And, with their massive collective interests in the arts and culture and in higher and private education, it is little wonder that there have been partnerships such as the People’s Bureau which have been supported by both Delancey and London College of Communication (LCC). Such partnerships are examples of artwashing, even if that was unknown to the artists involved. There are many other interwoven webs of interest at work at Elephant and Castle yet the partnership between LCC and Delancey reveals yet another example of both the corporate gentrification and social cleansing of marginal communities and how artists and higher education institutions can artwash these processes.
Developers, universities and artists are increasingly blatant and devious in their approaches to exploiting working class communities and their places and spaces for capital gain. And, yet they’ve been defeated by people power. By local people, campaigners, students, activists, some local politicians, grassroots groups coming together to oppose their attempts to socially cleanse the Elephant and Castle. The rejection of Delancey and UAL’s aggressive planning application is a milestone moment. Those opposed to the plans do not oppose regeneration, so long as it benefits and strengthens, not destroys, local communities and their ways of being and living. They do not oppose LCC building a new campus. They just want to stay where they are and live a better life, not to be displaced and scattered in the winds of capitalist accumulation by dispossession. Why can’t they have a say in what happens at Elephant and Castle? Wouldn’t it be great to see LCC and UAL – whose Chancellor Grayson Perry must be very embarrassed by its brash attempts to gentrify the neighbourhood (see his cartoon below) – stepping forward and supporting a radical rethink of plans for the shopping centre and surrounding area? Wouldn’t it be amazing if UAL were to insist on a participatory planning process that was fair and community-focused? And wouldn’t it be astounding if Delancey changed their ways and made it work for the existing community members rather than for offshore investors and hedge fund managers?
To date, Delancey, Southwark Council and UAL have chanted Thatcher’s mantra “There Is No Alternative” over and over, steamrollering everything in their path in so doing. Let’s hope that the local communities force the developers and the university to rethink. Perhaps they might even realise that THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES. Listen to those who know most: the people who’ve lived and worked in Elephant and Castle all their lives; the people now threatened by social cleansing. Listen to them, work with them, work for them. Your reputations are at stake. Make no mistake. This is not good PR. You look like greedy dictators. Be part of your community. Help it thrive and share in your prosperity. Don’t break its back and scorch its earth. Please.