"We will continue to fight our corner"
Chairman John Berylson joined fellow directors at Millwall's December AGM, held at The Den on Friday.
Resolutions considered at the meeting included acceptance of the accounts, re-election of three directors (Jimmy Berylson, Richard Press and Steve Kavanagh) plus re-appointment of auditors to the company, BDO LLP. These were all voted on by attending shareholders and proxy voters with over 99 per cent in favour.
As you will know, Lewisham Council has agreed to sell to Renewal the freehold interests of the land we lease around The Den. The Council also plans to sell the freeholds of the Lions Centre, the Millwall Café and some of the homes and businesses of our friends and neighbours.
The Council is also threatening to use compulsory purchase powers to acquire our leasehold interests in that land if we don’t sell them to Renewal for the derisory amounts that we have been offered.
To that extent, nothing has changed since the last AGM but in fact this has been a year of intense activity on both sides.
Three times in 2016 the Council has tried to initiate the CPO process and three times it has failed. The Club worked hard to inform and mobilise public opinion among the local community and its fan base. We are grateful for the support we have received. More than 25,000 people signed our online petition to Save Our Den.
We have been well supported by the media – notably by The Guardian newspaper – which has published a series of articles, and in Private Eye this week. We have raised many legal objections to the Council’s process.
However, the Council seems determined to press ahead and next week – very disappointingly - the Mayor and Cabinet will decide whether to override public opinion and all our objections and proceed with its CPO plans.
We have done all that we possibly can to dissuade them but I fear minds were made up many months ago.
The next step may therefore be that the Council starts the formal compulsory purchase process. That will lead to a public inquiry before a Planning Inspector who will, in due course, make a recommendation to the Secretary of State in favour or against Lewisham Council being permitted to use compulsory purchase powers to seize our land.
Needless to say, we will vigorously contest this and do everything that we possibly can to protect the Club, our community scheme and our friends and neighbours.
Why is this so important?
The Council has always said that it puts the football club at the heart of its core strategy. We welcome the redevelopment and regeneration of New Bermondsey; why wouldn’t we want our neighbourhood to be improved and made safer; why wouldn’t we want the new transport links? But we want to play our full part.
We want to be able to develop our own land within the wider scheme for the benefit of the Club and its fans and neighbours. We want to be able to build facilities that are complementary to The Den and enable us to use all the amenities fully on both match and non-match days. We want to build apartments, a hotel, retail outlets and more that will produce long-term income for the Club. We want to provide free accommodation for our community scheme. We want to find space for those friends and neighbours who will be displaced by Renewal’s development.
And if we lose our land, we can’t do any of this.
And worse, our new landlord won’t be the Council which, we hope, values its resident professional football team and the work of the community scheme. It says it regards us as important for Lewisham and core to the regeneration and development strategy. No, our landlord will be Renewal, an offshore company domiciled in tax havens with anonymous directors and no experience whatsoever – as it admits – of carrying out and completing a scheme of his complexity and size. Or our landlord may be someone else, to whom Renewal has sold on the freehold of our land.
I also worry that if we do lose control of the land around The Den, neither Renewal nor the Council has the first idea of what it takes to operate the stadium safely and efficiently on match days. We need a range of permissions and consents from a variety of authorities. Their requirements are stringent and quite rightly vary according to the nature of the match, the opposition, the day of the week and the time of day. If we don’t get the necessary licences, we can’t operate, it’s as simple as that.
We will continue to fight our corner but I am sure that you will all appreciate just how serious this is and what a threat it represents to the future of the Club. Your board has no option but to think very carefully about how to protect and promote the long term interests of Millwall Football Club. We fight on…