The owners of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre have released two early conceptual images of their proposal to redevelop the site using the core of the existing building.
The release of the images comes the day after a town hall scrutiny committee examined the decision by Southwark's cabinet to cooperate with St Modwen on proposals that could see the existing structure extended as part of a comprehensive refurbishment.
The council had previously sought the demolition of the shopping centre and the creation of a new high street-style shopping area as one of the key elements of the Elephant & Castle regeneration.
"These concepts are intended to be purely indicative at this stage to demonstrate our early thinking as to how the new Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre might look," says Tim Seddon, London regional director for St Modwen which owns the site through its KPI joint venture with Salhia Real Estate.
"There is a considerable amount of work required to develop these ideas into reality and for this reason both are deliberately very different in approach.
"However, what they do show is the ambition to achieve a transformation which consigns the old pink shopping centre to history."
St Modwen intends to include new homes and leisure facilities in the expanded complex, as well as extending the existing Hannibal House block. There are also plans for two large 'anchor tenants' – such as department stores – within the centre.
The images were shown to residents at last week's inaugural meeting of the Elephant & Castle Regeneration Forum.
At Wednesday night's overview and scrutiny committee meeting, Lib Dem councillor Tim McNally explained why he had signed the official 'call-in' request to trigger a meeting to discuss the Labour cabinet decision.
He said that the idea of keeping the shopping centre would squander a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and would let down residents who had been expecting the building's wholesale demolition.
Cllr McNally warned that the change of strategy for the shopping centre site could open up the council's agreement with Lend Lease to legal challenge because the unsuccessful bidders had formulated their proposals on the basis that the shopping centre would go.
"What we are deciding is not what the final solution will be for the shopping centre," said Cllr Fiona Colley, cabinet member for regeneration, who reminded councillors that the deal between Southwark Council and Lend Lease included provision to bring St Modwen into the regeneration agreement as a third party.
She stressed that cooperating with St Modwen offered the opportunity for development of the shopping centre to happen in the next few years "rather than some distant date far off into the future".
Questioned by Lib Dem committee chair Cllr Catherine Bowman about what had happened to change Southwark Labour's previously stated position that the shopping centre had to go, Cllr Colley insisted that by agreeing to work together the council wasn't necessarily endorsing St Modwen's proposal to retain the core of the structure.
"It's too early to say one way or another," she said, adding that any proposal from St Modwen would have to provide a new public square and much better pedestrian routes across the site in order to find favour with the council.
She said that early indications from St Modwen suggested that they might be able to meet many of the council's objectives for the site without complete demolition.
"We've seen something that we didn't think would be possible," she said. Later she added: "I'm not really persuaded but it might be possible."
Cllr Colley said that there had been a general shift in thinking about the relative merits of demolition versus refurbishment, partly for economic and environmental reasons. She cited the proposed redevelopment and extension of King's Reach Tower on the South Bank as an example of what is possible.
Cllr Colley told the committee that people are "sick of waiting" for something to happen at Elephant & Castle and that residents would welcome the prospect of earlier rather than later redevelopment of the shopping centre.
The alternative, she suggested, was to "do nothing and hope it all comes good in 10 years' time".
"[St Modwen] could bring forward these plans on their own but I think it's better that we do it in partnership," she said.
The committee heard from senior council officers that to retain the core of the existing structure might mean that building work takes just two years to complete, compared to a likely five-year timescale if the building were to be completely demolished.
Steve Platts, the council's director of regeneration, told the committee that the option of a compulsory purchase order – underwritten by the council's development partner Lend Lease – would remain on the table despite the decision to cooperate with St Modwen.
Conservative councillor Lewis Robinson voiced his concern about the apparent lack of protection for small businesses currently trading in the shopping centre. Steve Platts explained that new trading spaces for small retailers would be provided in nearby developments such as Oakmayne Plaza and the future Lend Lease development of the Heygate Estate land.
Although the overview and scrutiny committee is not whipped, it divided predictably along party lines with four Liberal Democrats and one Conservative voting to refer the decision back to cabinet for fresh negotiations to see the demolition of the shopping centre.
A motion welcoming the cabinet's decision to work in cooperation with St Modwen was tabled and carried by the six Labour councillors on the committee.