On Wednesday evening Southwark's Overview & Scrutiny Committee considered the Lib Dem's latest call-in of our agreement to enter into discussions with St Modwen, the owners of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre and Lend Lease, our redevelopment partners, for the regeneration of the shopping centre.
I have previously posted on this topic, and explained why this agreement was sensible. Firstly, it is better to work in co-operation with our partners than against them; secondly, the discussions may lead to an early redevelopment of the shopping centre; and thirdly, it is in everyone's interests that the shopping centre is redeveloped sooner rather than later.
I had thought that all three of these objectives would be welcomed by everyone. But it seems I was wrong. At Wednesday's meeting Southwark's Lib Dems moved that there should be no agreement for us to even discuss regeneration of the shopping centre with St Modwen and Lend Lease without there being an absolute commitment to demolish the shopping centre before any redevelopment work.
Let's just think about the logic of this position, and what it leads to.
St Modwen will not give an undertaking to demolish the shopping centre. Firstly, the shopping centre as it exists earns them money. They could simply choose to leave it as it is for the time being. Secondly, they believe that their proposals to strip the current centre back to it's concrete core and redevelop will lead to a new shopping centre - and having looked at some of the images they have produced that is hard to argue with. And thirdly, the works which they propose and which are being discussed with ourselves, Lend Lease and the community have the very real potential to meet our key objectives for the Elephant & Castle.
So if we adopted the Lib Dems approach it would not be delivered by St Modwen.
So who would deliver it?
Well the Regeneration Agreement provides that the Council will cooperate with Lend Lease in respect of a compulsory purchase of the shopping centre, but only at a time when Lend Lease ask for the CPO and only after they have exhausted attempts to redevelop with St Modwen. And when would this be likely to happen? The reality is that this would only arise at the end of the regeneration agreement period - 15 years from now. And even then there is no guarantee that Lend Lease would want to demolish the shopping centre if the economic climate for retail was not buoyant.
So the Lib Dems position is that it is wrong to even discuss redevelopment of the shopping centre with St Modwen and Lend Lease, and that we should hold out for a demolition which may not even be delivered in 15 years time, rather than try to bring about a major redevelopment of the shopping centre now.
Isn't the Lib Dems case really this - we don't want a redeveloped shopping centre and we don't want it now!
I am afraid that I cannot understand this position. It lacks ambition; it lacks vision; it opposes progress. But there again isn't that exactly what the Lib Dems did for the 8 years that they were in charge of the Elephant & Castle regeneration?
In 2014 I want to see real progress on the shopping centre; new homes on the Heygate; the development of the Oakmayne/Delancy site; and a new leisure centre for the Elephant & Castle. With the decisions which we have taken so far since last May we are well on the way to seeing these ambitions achieved.
Those who oppose the decision we took to work with St Modwen and Lend Lease on the regeneration of the shopping centre are opposed to the progress of the regeneration.
The Lib Dems have called-in and opposed every significant decision which we have taken on the Elephant & Castle since last May. Isn't it time for them to come clean and state clearly that they oppose the regeneration of this vital part of our borough? And if they don't oppose the regeneration can they please explain how their arguments and objections are consistent with progress being made.