Local MP backs Lions over Regeneration issue
Lewisham Council must not shaft Millwall now
"Millwall Football Club is in Bermondsey and has a Bermondsey postal address, but as most people know the ground has always just been on the Lewisham side of the Bermondsey/Deptford boundary. But that has never stopped those of us who live, or have lived, in Bermondsey feeling that Millwall belongs to us just as much as the people in the borough next door.
All Millwall, supporters know that the relationship between Lewisham Council and Millwall has been very important over the years. The deal which took Millwall from the old Den to the New Den was a good one for both parties and gave Millwall a great new stadium with the prospect of further improvement in the future.
Millwall is without doubt the sporting jewel in the Lewisham crown, referred to by the Council as the “borough’s premier sporting destination”.
The legal deal which brought the club to the New Den was clear. Millwall were given a 150-year lease over the ground and shorter leases were given for the Lions Centre, home to the Millwall Community Trust, and the area which most of us call ‘the car park’.
Millwall would always need Lewisham’s agreement for any development of the car park, but the Council are not allowed to withhold that permission unreasonably – although Millwall would also need planning permission.
In law, the club and the Community Trust are different organisations, but in practice they always work together because the Trust is a hugely important part of Millwall’s engagement with the community.
For a long time Lewisham has been working with a development company called Renewal Ltd to develop the area around the ground. So it is obvious that there are now three key players in the future planning of this area. Sadly, in the last few months, it has looked increasingly clear that Lewisham have become closer to Renewal and less committed to looking after Millwall’s best interests.
Just before Christmas, Lewisham decided that it would sell the freehold of three sites, including the car park and the Lions Centre, to Renewal – without any agreement from Millwall. If this sale goes ahead then Renewal will take over from Lewisham as the club’s landlords.
Renewal has not been helpful to Millwall FC in the past, so this is clearly neither a helpful nor a sensible move now.
Lewisham Council must think again. The club has a perfectly proper interest in making sure that the development of the car park site is one which benefits the club, as well as the borough and the surrounding community. It is not enough to leave the club with control over the ground, but not the land next to it, which was part of the original deal.
Lewisham Council are trying to persuade the public that Millwall have not been co-operative or reasonable in recent months. From all the correspondence I have seen this is clearly not the case.
There was regular communication in both directions during 2013. Millwall put forward plans in the summer, but almost immediately and without a chance for serious further discussion, Lewisham decided to press ahead with its deal with Renewal. In early December, Millwall warned Lewisham of the problems if they went ahead with the transfer of the freehold to Renewal. Lewisham still went ahead, just before Christmas.
But it is not too late to pull back from the brink. Lewisham must not only now be serious about talks with the club, but also be serious about reaching an agreement that is in the interests both of the club and the borough.
Last year when Lewisham Council wanted the club’s help in fighting the decision to close down Lewisham hospital, the club and its fans gave 100 per cent support. It is not acceptable for Lewisham now to walk away from a lifelong commitment to support its one and only major sporting institution.
Of course redevelopment of the area around Millwall is a good thing. Other sports facilities, affordable housing and other appropriate development would be welcome. And of course Lewisham Council, like Millwall, have to look after their financial interests. However, Lewisham also have a duty to honour and respect the club for all the benefits that it has brought to the borough over the years.
Lewisham Council must not shaft Millwall now.
As a local elected representative and Millwall supporter, I am happy to help to try to sort out a deal. But like many local residents I am very clear that the club’s secure future must be protected and guaranteed. The fans have made their support clear and as far as I know the board enjoy the unanimous backing of everybody associated with the club.
I hope the Mayor of Lewisham and his Council have got the message. Lewisham, you must think again. You must look after Millwall now and make sure Millwall’s loyalty to you is not ignored and does not go unrewarded.
Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP
Member of Parliament for Bermondsey & Old Southwark