Councillors this week approved plans for a 44-storey tower on the site of the London Park Hotel to provide 470 new homes and a permanent base for Southwark Playhouse.
The scheme involves the demolition of the notorious former London Park Hotel in SE11 which is situated just yards away from the southern roundabout at the Elephant and Castle.
Members of Southwark Council's planning committee voted unanimously to grant planning permission on Tuesday night.
The proposal has been brought forward by developers First Base, one of the partners in the consortium (led by Lend Lease) recently selected to deliver the Elephant and Castle regeneration programme. It is also backed by regeneration agency English Partnerships which owns the former London Park Hotel.
The development has been designed by Ivan Harbour of Rogers Stirk Harbour (formerly Richard Rogers Partnership).
Predominantly a residential development, the scheme includes 470 flats, more than 40 per cent of which have been designated as 'affordable housing'. Within the 'affordable' component, 85 per cent will be offered on a shared ownership basis. A 'sky garden' on the roof will be accessible to all residents.
At ground level the development includes a new permanent home for Southwark Playhouse, the innovative local fringe theatre. The playhouse was founded in 1993 in Southwark Bridge Road where it remained until September 2006. Just last week it reopened in its current temporary home below London Bridge Station.
First Base will provide the theatre company with a shell on a 125-year lease which it will have to fit out at its own expense. The new theatre will be able to seat 200 people and will have space for daytime educational work as well as evening performances.
The committee heard from Southwark Playhouse co-founder Tom Wilson and chief executive Chris Smyrnios who told councillors that the proposed new theatre – located so close to the Elephant and Castle transport interchange – will enable the company to better serve the entire borough of Southwark.
"We believe that we have arrived at an exceptional scheme that will significantly contribute to the overall regeneration of the Elephant and Castle," First Base director Richard Powell told the planning committee on Tuesday night. He added that the tower "will shape and enhance the tall building cluster at the Elephant & Castle".
Chris Horn, the council's director of the Elephant & Castle regeneration programme, told the planning committee that [along with Multiplex's Strata tower at the top of Walworth Road] the scheme represents one of the two tall towers which will characterise the regenerated Elephant & Castle.
Horn also spoke about the "fluidity of public movement" that will be created in the area between the First Base development and Strata when the subways at the southern roundabout are finally removed and ground-level pedestrian crossings introduced in Newington Butts and Walworth Road.
The scheme was backed by architecture watchdog CABE when its design review panel considered the proposals and visited the site.
The site is very close to the borough boundary and Lambeth Council has criticised the "gigantic" scheme which it says will dominate a major swathe of North Lambeth including the historic townscape of Kennington.
The Royal Parks Agency also objected to the scheme which it says will have a detrimental effect on the view from the top of Primrose Hill and from the Serpentine Bridge in Hyde Park.
The meeting heard from objector Rosemary de Hussey who was concerned about the tower's impact on daylight and sunlight levels in properties to the north of the proposed tower. He criticisms were rejected by the developer. Richard Powell of First Base told the committee that a "single slender tower" – rather than two shorter towers suggested in the Elephant development framework – had been chosen with the aim of minimising the shadowing effect.
Once final consent is granted – the Mayor of London could theoretically direct refusal – the developers say that they will start demolition of the disused hotel immediately, a process that will take until the end of this year. A two-and-a-half year construction period is expected, with completion due in spring/summer 2010.
"This is the beginning of a fantastic time for the area, as more and more innovative developments start to come through," says Cllr Richard Thomas, Southwark's executive member for regeneration.
"In the coming years, Elephant and Castle will become a deserved jewel in central London's crown, but even at this early stage, local people are already seeing for themselves how their neighbourhood is improving. And securing a new home for the Southwark Playhouse is very important, because regeneration is as much about community resources as it is about buildings."