Controversial Allies & Morrison-designed proposals finally approved by council

Allies & Morrison's proposals to replace Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre

Allies & Morrison’s proposals to replace Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, seen from Elephant Park

Controversial proposals from developer Delancey to transform a famous south London shopping centre with a new scheme that includes a 35-storey tower have finally won planning consent – but only by a one-vote margin.

Designed by Allies & Morrison, the scheme to demolish and replace the 1960s Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre was first unveiled three years ago and has been through a number of revisions following local objections.

In January this year members of Southwark council’s planning committee twice deferred the application, latterly so that officers could draw up detailed reasons for the scheme to be refused.

But at a meeting on Tuesday they approved the scheme – which will provide new shops, offices, education facilities, leisure and entertainment facilities, transport upgrades and almost 1,000 new homes – by four votes to three, with one abstention.

The developer said it would now offer a bingo operator first refusal on some of the commercial space in the new development. It said the operator of the current 1,000-seat bingo hall turned down 18 new locations during the lengthy planning negotiations.

Delancey investment director Stafford Lancaster said the firm had “worked very closely” with Southwark and the local community since January’s moves to refuse the scheme gathered pace.

“Our proposals offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver a new town centre for the area, with each of these elements dependent on being delivered together,” he said.

“This includes a modern transport system, and a commitment to maintaining the area’s unique and vibrant culture. The new town centre will include a range of high street and independent retailers, enhanced restaurant and leisure opportunities and much-needed housing.

“We know that the task we face going forward in delivering this project, in an inclusive and positive manner, is huge. We want to assure all parties that we take our responsibility extremely seriously and know our reputation in Elephant & Castle will need to be hard earnt in the long-run. We remain open to debate, and embrace the next stages with great optimism about what can be achieved for all.”

A spokesperson for Delancey said it was too early to comment on a timetable for procuring pre-construction and construction works packages.

The redevelopment of the wider Elephant & Castle area – including the hugely divisive regeneration of the Heygate Estate – has sparked debate about the role of local authorities and the private sector in driving neighbourhood renewal but breaking up long-established working-class communities in the process.

The council’s key concerns in January included the proportion of social-rented homes earmarked as part of the overall scheme; the loss of existing social facilities – including a popular bingo hall; and opportunities for existing local traders, many from the Latin American community, to remain in the area post-regeneration.

A protest march against the proposals by local residents and business owners stopped traffic on the Elephant gyratory at the weekend.

After last night’s meeting, Southwark’s cabinet member for development Johnson Situ accepted that aspects the plans had provoked opposition in the local community, but insisted that the authority would continue to work with developer Delancey to “ensure the new development works for local people”.

“This is a complex scheme that will create a vibrant new town centre, which is a key part of the wider regeneration of Elephant & Castle bringing new homes, jobs and opportunities to the area. Investment in the area is essential to bring forward these benefits,” he said.

“The council has been pushing hard for the best possible outcome for local people and particularly the local businesses that will have to move out of the centre and find affordable retail space in the surrounding area.”

Situ said that the site currently had no social housing, meaning that any new units represented an increase – and added that the authority had worked in a review mechanism to its conditions of approval that could lead to a higher level than the 35% rate identified in the report being delivered in the future.

“For the businesses it has been agreed that 10% of the retail space across the sites will be affordable and Delancey has guaranteed a £634,000 tenant relocation fund to support traders,” he said.

“We know this is still a very difficult time for people directly affected by this significant change and the council will continue to work with the businesses to support them and help them not just find a new home but also grow and thrive in it.”