Golden towers emerge from a canopy of trees on a hoarding in Elephant and Castle, snaking around a nine-hectare strip of south London where soon will rise “a vibrant, established neighbourhood, where everybody loves to belong”. It is a bold claim, given that there was an established neighbourhood here before, called the Heygate Estate – home to 3,000 people in a group of 1970s concrete slab blocks that have since been crushed to hardcore and spread in mounds across the site, from which a few remaining trees still poke.
Everybody might love to belong in Australian developer Lend Lease’s gilded vision for the area, but few will be able to afford it. While the Heygate was home to 1,194 social-rented flats at the time of its demolition, the new £1.2bn Elephant Park will provide just 74 such homes among its 2,500 units. Five hundred flats will be “affordable” – ie rented out at up to 80% of London’s superheated market rate – but the bulk are for private sale, and are currently being marketed in a green-roofed sales cabin on the site. Nestling in a shipping-container village of temporary restaurants and pop-up pilates classes, the sales suite has a sense of shabby chic that belies the prices: a place in the Elephant dream costs £569,000 for a studio, or £801,000 for a two-bed flat.