Plans for demolishing and rebuilding the Elephant and Castle shopping centre were dealt a blow this week by a surprise decision from Southwark Council’s Planning Committee. The proposals by the development firm Delancey were expected to pass, given they the full support of the Labour Council’s leadership.
The Planning Committee’s proceedings went on for almost eight hours, ending at almost 2am the next day. The vote went 4-3 against approving the application, with the two Liberal Democrats on the committee joined by two dissenting Labour councillors. Two Labour councillors who had the backing of the Leadership voted for the proposals, as did the Conservative councillor on the committee; another Labour councillor decided to abstain on the decision.
Commenting on the committee meeting after voting against the proposals, Liberal Democrat Cllr Adele Morris said 'This application received overwhelming, policy related objections from local residents, businesses, and a cross party delegation of ward councillors. We have waited a long time for the shopping centre to be redeveloped, and we shouldn’t be accepting something that doesn’t deliver the best outcome. The centre currently serves our diverse community through its independent shopping and leisure activities, and low cost shops. Local residents, who we represent, feel that the new scheme will not meet their needs and aspirations. I hope that by not granting permission last night we will get a better offer from Delancey. Southwark deserves better than this.'
Critics of the plans had several reasons for their opposition, but two stood out above others. The first was the lack of social housing offered. The Liberal Democrat councillor Hamish McCallum said ‘I voted the application against due to the lack of social housing – just 33 units out of 979! It’s vital that the council protects local communities and forces developers to comply with planning policies. We need homes local people can afford.’
The second main opponents cited was the fears and expectations that under the proposals, existing businesses would be moved out and could not return due to the substantially higher levels of rent. The proposals acknowledged this, explicitly stating that ‘no space has been specifically allocated’ to market stall holders, that ‘attract[ing] national retailers’ was the priority and that ‘allowing existing traders an automatic right to return could potentially undermine this’.
Cllr Anood Al-Samerai, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on Southwark council said, ‘Local businesses and traders have organically emerged over decades from the local community, to serve the local community. They and their customers are largely from BAME heritage and deserve to have a future after redevelopment takes place. It’s clear that the planning application makes that highly unlikely – and indeed, is practically designed to favour generic national and multinational companies over them. Yes, we do want to see development but it has to be one where local residents and businesspeople have a future in the borough, rather than pushed out of it.’
The decision is far from being the final one however. The same committee will revisit the planning application on the 30th of January, after the reasons for refusing to approve it are formally presented. As it stands therefore, the application is in limbo, having neither been formally approved nor rejected.