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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 June, 2003, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Mammoth facelift for the Elephant
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News Online, London

Elephant and Castle shopping centre
The shopping centre was one of the first enclosed centres in London
It has the dubious honour of having been repeatedly nominated as London's ugliest building, now the days of Elephant and Castle's shopping centre look numbered.

The building, electric pink until it was painted red for Comic Relief, is at the centre of a 170-acre area in south London being transformed in a £1.5bn public private partnership scheme.

Many will be glad to see the back of the 1960s building and the traffic-choked six-lane roundabout on which it sits.

"There used to be polls about which the most hated building was and we used to be right up there with the Park Lane Hilton," said Chris Horn, regeneration project director.

Now the area, including five 12-storey post-war council blocks, are to be demolished and the whole road system re-arranged over the next 12 years.

Marking the first phase of the development is the building of about 1,000 new homes for council tenants and private owners.

Plans on display
A three-month public consultation process is underway
The transformation cannot come soon enough for Mr Horn, who believes the old layout has stifled the area's development.

Elephant and Castle has good transport links, is close to the City and the West End and is within walking distance of 11 Thames river crossings.

But, he says, locals leave the area to do much of their shopping in Croydon, Bluewater and the West End.

He is not a fan of the bright red shopping centre either.

He told BBC News Online: "It thrives inside with little local businesses but it is not anybody's idea of a modern shopping centre.

"Its crumbling exterior has become a symbol of the deterioration of Elephant and Castle."

It is hoped the new plans for a new, partly pedestrianised town centre, packed with cafés, restaurants and shops, parks and leisure facilities as well as over 4,000 homes will win over residents.

They are being consulted on the proposals for the next three months before Southwark Council confirms the final shape of the future Elephant and Castle in September.

At the shopping centre, it appears the massive project has been talked about for so long - people do not believe it will really happen.

Emily and Ernest Spring
I would sooner see it stop like it is
Ernest Spring,74

One young stallholder said; "I feel I will be long gone into retirement by the time they pull it down.

"When I first arrived seven years ago, someone told me they were going to pull it down in six months.

"Last week I heard it would be five years - to me that means eight to 10 years. That's why people are not really worried about it."

Pensioners Ernest and Emily Spring, from Battersea, do their shopping and play bingo at the shopping centre once a week.

"I would sooner see it stop like it is, all the shops are here already," said Mr Spring, 74.

"We're not only coming for the shopping, but we come in and have a walk around they've got a market outside, it's very convenient."

And there is concern wooing big chains will mean moving existing small businesses out of the centre.

But Mr Horn believes the facelift will not only benefit Elephant and Castle, but the rest of London, where there are few large plots of land available for regeneration.

"We are part of a city - London has a status as a great city and we can contribute to that," he said.

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