Outline plans for 2,500 new homes on the site of the Heygate Estate at Elephant & Castle were approved on Tuesday night at a marathon six-hour sitting of Southwark Council's planning committee.
The masterplan drawn up by Make architects for developers Lend Lease will be implemented over the next 13 years.
The masterplan will see the existing 1,107 homes on the 1970s Heygate Estate replaced by around 2,500 homes as well as shops, offices and a central park.
Individual planning applications will be submitted for each of the 12 plots. Each plot is expected to include low-rise, mid-rise and high-rise elements. The tallest parts of the proposed development will be up to 30 storeys high on Walworth Road and 24 storeys on New Kent Road.
Just after midnight on Wednesday morning the application for outline planning permission for the Lend Lease scheme was approved by four votes to two with one abstention. The voting split along party lines with Labour councillors voting in favour and Lib Dem committee members voting against and abstaining.
A vote on the separate application for the demolition of the Heygate Estate's existing buildings was carried unanimously.
So many people wanted to attend the crucial meeting that many were denied access to the meeting room at Southwark Council's Tooley Street offices. Police officers and a larger number of security staff than usual were on duty in the building.
The meeting was adjourned for nearly half an hour when protesters held up placards criticising the scheme. Planning committee chair Cllr Nick Dolezal threatened to clear the public gallery but the meeting was able to resume after Dave Walker of the Southwark Mediation Centre brokered discussions between councillors and protesters.
Objectors who addressed the meeting raised concerns about the level of affordable housing proposed, as well as the loss of many of the mature trees on the site and the developer's insistence on providing car parking for future residents despite the Elephant & Castle's exceptional public transport links.
"This is an outline application which seeks agreement to fundamental principles to guide future detailed development," explained planning officer Bridin O'Connor.
She added: "We are confident that the framework is robust and will help to secure the positive regeneration of the area.
"It will provide a significant number of new homes across all tenures within a greatly enhanced environment, retaining much of what is its key asset – that is, the trees – and will facilitate the creation of new employment for residents both in the immediate area and the borough as a whole.
"The legacy of this masterplan proposal will be the new gridded arrangement of streets and routes with the public park at its heart, a new London square, which will reinstate an urban landscape and offer new links and spaces across this important part of the city.
"In placemaking terms, this proposal promises to deliver a high-quality new neighbourhood which will benefit the immediate area and the wider borough."
On affordable housing, Ms O'Connor explained that the scheme would provide 533 homes for social rent, affordable rent and shared ownership which, when taken together with the 536 homes on the so-called 'early housing sites' intended for former Heygate tenants, would contribute to a total of 1069 affordable homes in lieu of the 1023 council homes on the estate.
This assessment was later challenged by objectors from the Elephant Amenity Network who pointed out that only 71 of the proposed new units will be social rented homes.
The proposed level of affordable housing in the masterplan application is pegged at a minimum of 25 per cent due to a contractual deal between the council and Lend Lease, despite a planning policy requirement for 35 per cent.
The committee heard that viability assessment show that in the current economic conditions the scheme could only viably support an affordable housing level of 9 per cent.
However, Ms O'Connor told members that in development terms, the concept of 'viability' is based on standard assumptions of profit margins required in relation to bank lending, and not an absolute guide to what is and is not possible to build.
"Just because something isn't 'viable' doesn't mean it can't happen or it can't turn a profit," she said.
Ms O'Connor also highlighted the proposed retention of many of the mature trees on the current Heygate site. However, she acknowledged that more than half – 283 out of 406 – will be felled.
Objectors speaking at the committee meeting were led by Jerry Flynn of the Elephant Amenity Network who explained that the group supported the aims of the Elephant & Castle regeneration but believed that the current application should be rejected.
"We – along with everyone else – want to see new homes for all, new job opportunities and a better local environment so that people can enjoy living and working at the Elephant & Castle.
"We do not believe that these applications will give us these things."
He went on to highlight concerns about affordable housing, viability, transport, renewable energy and privatisation of the public realm.
"The placemaking of the scheme will be more exclusive than inclusive," he said.
Heygate Estate leaseholder Adrian Glasspool told councillors: "We are losing our homes and being displaced to facilitate this development. We were originally promised new homes in the new Heygate development with retained equity.
"This option hasn't been included in the final masterplan and therefore we request that this application be rejected."
Dan Labbad, global chief operating officer of Lend Lease, flew to London from Australia to address Tuesday's meeting.
"I travelled to be here across the world because I personally wanted to relay Lend Lease's commitment to this transformational scheme," he said.
"It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation opportunity.
"It is important to note how far we have come to be here tonight.
"There are some who have been disappointed over the years that this could not be done; there are others that have claimed it could never be be done.
"Yet before us we have ... a fantastic scheme that will not only transform the Elephant but be a global example of regeneration best practice.
"As your regeneration partner ... I confirm and pledge our commitment to provide the regeneration that you and the community will be proud of."
Mr Labbad said that the Heygate scheme would act as a catalyst for further public and private investment around the Elephant & Castle.
He also shook off concerns that the company might not have the cash or the staying power to see the project through.
"I assure you that Lend Lease has the experience, the global track record and the resources to deliver this important project," he said.
"Despite the challenging economic circumstances we find ourselves in, we have the financial capacity and stability to commit to this project for the longer term."
Ken Shuttleworth of Make architects reminded the committee that his firm has been working on the Elephant & Castle project for more than a decade, first for Southwark Council and later for Lend Lease.
Pressed by councillors to describe what would make this scheme truly world-class, he said: "We believe that we are going to get the best architects in the world to work here.
"We are one of the best architects in the world anyway, so we are off to a good start.
"We haven't spent 10 years of our lives working here to produce something that's not absolutely brilliant."
Asked about the life expectancy of the new buildings, Mr Shuttleworth said that parts would last 100 to 200 years, whilst some elements would require refurbishment or replacement at shorter intervals.
Councillors also asked Lend Lease to justify its demand for car parking spaces for a quarter of the proposed homes in spite of a planning policy presumption in favour of car-free development in acessible locations – and projections that car ownership in London will fall over the next decade.
Rob Heasman of Lend Lease explained that the company needed to offer car parking spaces to prospective residents in order to compete with other regeneration schemes.
However, he insisted that parking is not in itself profitable to build, and the company would be keen to minimise the number of spaces provided.
The committee also heard from East Walworth ward councillors Martin Seaton and Rebecca Lury who expressed their support for the proposals and congratulated the developer on its consultation with local residents.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, said: "The planning committee's decision to approve the masterplan and endorse our vision for Elephant & Castle is a watershed moment for the borough.
"We now have the opportunity, working with local people and our partners Lend Lease, to continue the transformation of the area as a place where people want to live, work, shop and relax.
"The regeneration of Elephant & Castle will take time, but this announcement, and the starting of work on a brand new leisure centre, are all crucial steps towards a greener, safer and more attractive place in central London that people will be proud to call their home.
"It is so exciting to see this vital project gain momentum so that people will finally begin to see those much needed improvements being made on the ground."
• A public inquiry into the compulsory purchase of the remaining leaseholders on the estate opens next month
• Demolition of the existing buildings will take about two years
• The first plot expected to be developed will be on the northern edge of the site fronting New Kent Road
• The tallest of the proposed buildings will be concentrated on New Kent Road and Walworth Road
• The Lend Lease scheme will provide £13 million towards the remodelling of the Northern line tube station and northern roundabout
• The building phase is expected to reach its peak in 2019, with a projected 10 construction-related vehicle movements an hour round the Elephant & Castle roundabout
• Lend Lease has pledged to pay the London Living Wage to all contractors and subcontractors on the project.
• The council remains in talks with Crossway United Reformed Church about its relocation to the old Castle Resource Centre in Hampton Street.
• Biomethane could be used as an energy source for the development.
• The park in the centre of the development will be open to the public but managed by a private company