The decision to turn the “old-fashioned” Brent Cross Shopping centre into the “jewel in Barnet’s crown” is a watershed moment in a campaign spanning almost 16 years.

Plans for the £4billion project were approved by Barnet Borough Council’s planning committee yesterday, and work is expected to start in 2016.

Under the plans, Brent Cross will be rebuilt into a huge shopping destination which developer Hammerson and Standard Life hopes will be the “best in Europe”.

Mike McGuinness, development director at Hammerson, said: “Clearly we are delighted with this decision.

“It is a major step towards the delivery of a thriving new town centre and a complete transformation of the area.

“It will also secure the future of Brent Cross, which will become a truly great place to shop, eat, enjoy and spend time, both during the day and into the evening.”

Mr McGuinness said the project will bring huge investment into the borough - creating more than 27,000 jobs, new school facilities, parks and millions of pounds worth of transport improvements.

He added: “There is still a lot of work to do but it is exciting to proceed to the next stage, working with people on the details of the scheme to create the best possible future for Brent Cross Cricklewood."

James Stevens, head of UK development at Standard Life Investments, said: "The committee's decision is fantastic news and a major achievement for us and our partners.

“There's still a great deal to accomplish, but we are one step closer to realising our aspirations for a new vibrant urban quarter anchored by a world class retail and leisure offer."

Jonathan Josephs, from the Brent Cross Development Partners, said the current centre was outdated and they were keen to turn it into the 'jewel in Barnet's crown'.

The expansion plans were killed by judicial review in 1998 - but the council made a U-turn on its decision in 1999, saying they would be a welcome addition to the town.

But not everyone welcomed the proposals - and the planning committee heard many objections before making their final decision with a majority vote of six to four.

After the meeting, campaigners hinted they may apply for judicial review in a last-ditch attempt to block it.

Many fear the lack of transport links make it the “wrong place” for a huge shopping mall - but the Brent Cross Bus Station is due to be doubled in size.

And a new Living Bridge, which is billed as a dual pedestrian and cycle crossing over the North Circular Road, will also be built.

But one opponent said afterwards they felt they had been “conned” by developers.

Campaigner Lesley Turner told the Times Series: “We’re still a car-based society and it’s going to cause a lot of traffic congestion.

“I think the Living Bridge is going to cause absolute chaos. I just can’t believe it’s been approved.

“We’re going to have to regroup and consider our options. Judicial review might be an option, but we’d have to look at the cost of it all.”

Plans also include concreting over the well-loved Cricklewood Green Space opposite B&Q - which developers called a “sloping void”.

Lia Colacicco, from the Save Cricklewood Green Space Society, said: “I am gobsmacked by this assertion. It’s devastating.

“We are heartbroken, especially when we have done so much to make it a success.”

Campaigner Alisdair Bethley said: “You just need to look at the pictures to see how well-loved the Cricklewood Green Space is. We feared this would happen but now we can’t believe it’s going.”