It's been years in planning, but now St Mary's Quarter, which is at the heart of plans to regenerate Elephant and Castle, is approaching completion. Two residential towers, a new leisure centre, a theatre, a renovated park and retail, the development exemplifies the council's original vision for a mixed use, mixed-tenure town centre and shows what can be achieved when the public and private sectors work together. Noella Pio Kivlehan reports
“I've never said this to anyone before, but I wish the tower had been bigger."
Rob Heasman, project director for the 37-storey One the Elephant, is in confessional mood.
Heasman has overseen developer Lendlease’s residential-led high-rise scheme, One the Elephant, for the last seven years. It makes up a third of the new landmarks at the nearly completed St Mary’s Quarter project in Elephant and Castle.
The other two are Realstar's 45-storey tower with 457 homes – 80 Newington Butts – as well as the Castle leisure centre, which opened in 2016.
The scheme reinforces Southwark Council's vision for Elephant and Castle and the local authority hopes its success will act as a catalyst for future regeneration projects in the town, such as the long-awaited redevelopment of the shopping centre.
Having nursed the building from conception to completion, Heasman explains: "If I could change anything, I think One the Elephant could be taller.
"From an urban design perspective, tall buildings in London primarily have policy focuses around areas of public transport, accessibility, and the Elephant is the highest classification you could get.
"There are buildings around the Elephant, which are about 10 storeys higher than ours. One the Elephant is lower because it is within a strategic viewing corridor, which I think is a blunt tool to measure the actual form a tower should take."
Wanting more floors is no vanity statement: Heasman says though Lendlease is "really pleased with the outcome", the desire for more storeys is philanthropic: the taller the building, the more units, which would mean more money for the public purse.
How so? An agreed deal – or ‘profit overage arrangement’ – between Lendlease and Southwark Council meant when a certain amount of money was raised, both parties would share the excess sum equally.
As Jon Abbott, the council's project director for Elephant and Castle, says, funding for the Castle leisure centre (see page 21) and part of St Mary's Churchyard was provided through a combination of selling council-owned land, the planning gain (section 106 contributions from One the Elephant) and the profit overage arrangement.
Southwark Council has bought Courage Yard on Shad Thames, near Tower Bridge, which it will redevelop to generate income for frontline services.