An historic and positive step was taken on Tuesday night when Southwark's Planning Committee approved the Masterplan for the regeneration of the Heygate - the sprawling estate at the heart of the Elephant & Castle which is central to the regeneration of the area. The estate has been virtually empty for the last two years and has become a symbol of the failure of the regeneration to make any progress over that time.
The regeneration of the Elephant was conceived as an idea 15 years ago. It has been slow progress getting to this point, but it now looks as if the regeneration will become a reality over the next decade and a half. We still await the proposals for the regeneration of the shopping centre, but with a new leisure centre already under construction; the southern roundabout having undergone a major revamp; and significant progress with TfL towards delivering an improved northern roundabout and access via escalator to the Northern Line, there is real momentum to the project.
Tuesday's meeting was not without objection or controversy. With any scheme which brings 2500 new homes; 1250 long-term jobs, a new park and public realm improvements, it is unlikely that everyone will be on the same page at the same time. And many of the objectors rightly wanted to challenge the council and the developers to ensure that the best deal was being delivered for Southwark.
Two of the most controversial elements of the masterplan application concerned the level of affordable housing being delivered and the amount of car parking on site. I have previously blogged about the affordable housing at the Heygate, but it is crucial to note that the landscape for the delivery of affordable housing changed radically in May 2010 when the Coalition cut grant subsidy for social housing by £6 billion. This meant that for every unit of social housing on the Heygate site approximately £120,000 of grant subsidy was lost. The target for delivering 35% affordable housing on-site became impossible from that time. There are moments throughout the 15 year history of this project when 35% or more affordable housing could have been delivered - but those moments and those opportunities were not seized by the then Administration.
But the masterplan approved on Tuesday will still deliver 25% affordable housing - much more than the viability tests undertaken by Lend Lease demonstrated; more than the District Valuer thought could be delivered; and much more than is being delivered on similar schemes across London. Remember that the Government's Growth and Infrastructure Bill gives developers the option to negotiate the level of affordable housing which they deliver down to zero on stalled schemes. So 25% affordable housing on the Heygate scheme in the current climate is a fair result. Would I like to see more? Yes. Can more be achieved within the short-term? No.
So I think it's right to place progress on the regeneration of the Elephant as a priority and support a scheme which delivers the majority of elements which I and the community want to see. I simply don't believe that waiting for something better to turn up is a proper way of managing a major project like the Elephant regeneration or responsible government. I'll leave it to others to argue that inaction is better.
I respect the views of those who have opposed the regeneration of the Elephant. I think they're wrong to continue their opposition, but that doesn't mean that they haven't had a major impact on the scheme which was approved on Tuesday. They have.
The decision on Tuesday to support the regeneration of the Elephant is good news. As I've already said - it means 2500 new homes; 5000 jobs created during the construction phase and 1250 in the longer term; a new civic presence in the heart of the scheme; the largest new park in Zone 1 for 70 years; major transport improvements for the Elephant and a host of new opportunities.
It's been a long time coming, but the Elephant is entering a new phase in its' exciting history.