A controversial scheme to redevelop the sites of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, the London College of Communication and The Coronet has won the backing of Southwark's planning committee.
Southwark's planning committee endorsed Delancey's major development scheme by four votes to three, with one abstention, after a four and a half hour session on Tuesday night.
There are several more stages to the process before the approval is made final, including sign-off by the Mayor of London, and a Government decision on whether or not the shopping centre should be given listed status.
This week's decision could mean that only nine months remain until the closure of the shopping centre, just short of its 54th anniversary next spring.
Since the scheme was first considered by planning committee in January, the makeup of the proposed affordable housing component has been rejigged, with the previous offer of 33 homes at social rent equivalent replaced by 116 homes likely to be owned and managed directly by the council.
This change has been achieved by the promise of more than £11 million in City Hall grant funding, and by reducing the number of homes at London Living Rent – pegged to average earnings – from 158 to 53.
161 of the 'affordable' homes in the scheme – offered at a discount market rent – would be for households earning up to £90,000 a year.
Introducing the application, senior council planning officer Bridin O'Connor described the scheme as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to change the Elephant & Castle, and told councillors that: "there is clear weight in favour of granting planning permission" for the project.
She underlined the benefits of the new Northern line tube station entrance to be constructed as part of the project, noting that at the existing station "congestion is approaching a crisis".
Patria Roman-Velasquez of the Latin Elephant group underlined the effects of the scheme on ethnic minority-owned businesses and their customers, whilst Emad Megahed, representing local traders, said that tenants of the shopping centre still didn't have clarity about their future options.
Jerry Flynn of the Elephant Amenity Network's 35 Per Cent Campaign welcomed the increase in social housing but warned that Delancey's adjustments to the scheme still didn't entirely comply with planning policy.
Stafford Lancaster, investment director at Delancey, reminded the committee that their decision would affect people living, working and studying at the Elephant "now and for generations to come".
He said that the developer has learnt some "hard lessons" from the controversy generated by the scheme, and pledged a "right to return" for existing businesses.
Stressing that Delancey was keen to ensure that the Elephant remained a diverse place, Mr Lancaster said that "a sea of multiple retailers will fail" and that "an interesting and different offer" was vital.
"Change brings challenge and we have much, much to do to alleviate any hardship from that," he said.
Natalie Brett, head of the London College of Communication, said that the existing LCC building "is falling down around our ears" and warned that the college would probably have to seek a new home outside the borough if permission wasn't granted for the Delancey scheme.
The three councillors for North Walworth – Rebecca Lury, Darren Merrill and Martin Seaton – sat alongside St George's ward councillors Maria Linforth-Hall and Graham Neale – to raise concerns about the project on behalf of their constituents.
Cllr Merrill warned that his constituents wouldn't be able to afford the rents proposed in the new development: "Who are these homes for?" he asked.
"I can't see that they are for the people I represent."
Whilst Southwark's planning committee has often split along party lines, with Labour members backing big developments and Liberal Democrat councillors taking a more critical view, it was Lib Dem Hamish McCallum who proposed the motion that application be approved.
Committee members voted as follows:
• Hamish McCallum
• Lorraine Lauder
• Cleo Soanes
• Jane Salmon
• Jason Ochere
• Kath Whittam
• James McAsh
• Renata Hamvas
After the meeting eight Labour councillors representing wards around the Elephant – Rebecca Lury, Darren Merrill, Martin Seaton, Karl Eastham, Helen Dennis, Sirajul Islam, Jack Buck and Paul Fleming – issued a statement urging the Mayor of London to bring pressure on Delancey to obtain a better deal on housing and for local traders.
They warned that the scheme as it currently stands has "significant moral and policy failings".
On Wednesday Delancey's Stafford Lancaster issued a statement welcoming the council's decision.
He said: "We know that the task we face going forward in delivering this project, in an inclusive and positive manner, is huge.
We want to ensure all parties that we take our responsibility extremely seriously and know our reputation in Elephant & Castle will need to be hard earned in the long-run.
"We remain open to debate, and embrace the next stages with great optimism about what can be achieved for all."
The London College of Communication also put out a statement responding to the outcome of the meeting.
"Having been at the heart of Elephant and Castle for over half a century, we are delighted to be able to continue our future in the area," said a spokesman.
"We believe this building for London College of Communication will not only benefit our students, staff and alumni for generations to come, but allow us to expand our ongoing work with local communities, neighbours, partners and schools."
Patria Roman-Velazquez of Latin Elephant said that her organisation was "extremely disappointed" by the committee decision and pledged to continue to campaign.
"Together with many other local groups, residents, LCC students, local councillors and campaigners, Latin Elephant will continue to fight for a fair and inclusive deal for all BAME and Latin American traders who make Elephant & Castle our home.
"We might have lost one fight, but not the battle! Se pierde una batalla pero no la lucha!"
Florence Eshalomi, London Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark, said: "Now that a decision has been made, I urge Delancey to get to grips with providing the necessary support to long-standing traders and businesses that have been left in a state of uncertainty for so long."
She added: "Whilst this decision will make the way forward for local businesses relatively clearer, it must not come at the cost and fragmentation of the existing community."
For the latest local news and events direct to your inbox every Monday, you need our weekly email newsletter SE1 Direct.
7,000+ locals read it every week. Can you afford to miss out?
Read the latest issue before signing up