Councillors voted to grant planning permission to the existing buildings on the Jam Factory site after five hours of deliberation at Southwark Town Hall on Tuesday night.
The high-profile residential conversion of the former Hartley's factory by Angel Properties has had a tortuous planning history spanning more than seven years.
The Jam Factory complex, bounded by Rothsay Street, Alice Street and Prioress Street, is divided into five plots. Blocks A, B and C are the converted factory buildings which have been fully occupied for some time. Block D is a new-build block which has been fitted out but not yet occupied. Block E would occupy the vacant plot near the factory's chimney.
Tuesday's five-hour session of the planning committee followed a lengthy discussion in June when members decided that a site visit was necessary before they reached a decision.
Although the developer received an overall planning permission for the whole site in 2000, this has since expired as the works had not been carried out in accordance with that permission.
The first application before the committee this week sought retrospective permission for the conversion of blocks A-C and the construction of block D. The second application proposed a four-storey building – block E – on Rothsay Street.
Block D – which was built to designs by Alan Camp Architects – was originally intended for affordable housing but has in fact been built and fitted out for sale at market rates.
The developers argued at the previous planning committee meeting that the block fails to meet the standards required by a registered social landlords so instead proposed to build housing social housing in the new block E, enabling them to sell the empty flats in block D.
Chartered surveyor Steve Lewis, chair of the Jam Factory Residents Association (which opposed the two planning applications), told councillors that he was addressing the committee not only on behalf of residents of the private gated community but also on behalf of residents of the nearby Meakin and Haddonhall estates.
He accused the developers of "a calculated breach of the original planning consents" and providing "conflicting and misleading information".
The residents' association argues that the amenity space within the Jam Factory estate is inadequate for the number of people living in the buildings – a situation that would only be exacerbated by the construction of block E on the remaining vacant plot.
"The history of the development has not been a happy one for residents on the Meakin and Haddonhall estates as well as the Jam Factory itself," Cllr McNally told the committee.
He noted that there had been "myriad breaches" of planning law in every single block on the site which should "not be rewarded with a retrospective pat on the head".
Cllr McNally told committee members that the situation of blocks A-C needed to be regularised as soon as possible as the lack of planning permission for the development created problems for residents seeking to obtain insurance or sell their apartments.
Cllr Zuleta accused the developers of "opportunism": "People bought into a scheme and the scheme they bought into hasn't materialised. Nothing is as it was originally approved."
Identifying a way forward, Cllr Gordon Nardell told colleagues: "An appropriate amount of amenity space for blocks A to D can only be provided on the site identified for block E".
In 2004 Jam Factory residents made a speculative planning application for the block E site to include a residents' amenity space and garden. Permission was granted although residents were unable to implement such a scheme. Representatives of the Jam Factory Residents' Association say that whilst the garden would not be a public space, they would envisage offering access to the complex's immediate neighbours such as the Haddonhall and Meakin estates.
The three members of the committee – Cllr James Gurling (chair), Cllr Gordon Nardell and Cllr Robin Crookshank Hilton – voted unanimously to grant planning permission for blocks A-D subject to a condition that before any units in block D are occupied a scheme for amenity space on the block E site is agreed in accordance with the principles of the 2004 permission gained by residents and a legal agreement for 42 units of affordable housing in block D is obtained.
Councillors also unanimously rejected the application for block E.
The committee's decision – reached shortly before 12.30am – was greeted with sustained applause, cheers and a standing ovation from the 50-plus residents of the Jam Factory and nearby properties who had attended the meeting in the council chamber.
It now remains to be seen whether Angel Properties will appeal the decision.