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Millwall chairman Berylson pens letter to Lewisham councillors

12 February 2016

Read it in full...

Next Wednesday, Lewisham Council's Cabinet will seek Compulsory Purchase Orders to take the land around the stadium currently leased to Millwall and the Millwall Community Trust, which houses the Lions Centre, and sell it to property developer Renewal.

Below is John Berylson's email to councillors.

Dear Councillor, 

On 17 February a decision may be made by Lewisham Council’s Cabinet which will decide the future of Millwall Football Club and the Millwall Community Trust. While we continue to fight every week to return to the Championship, off the pitch we face a challenge which threatens the Club’s very survival.

Lewisham Council is proposing to seek compulsory purchase powers to take the land we lease around our stadium and sell it to the property company Renewal. We have resisted this because we want to continue to be an active participant in the regeneration of New Bermondsey, not just an onlooker. 

I ask you to consider the following facts and questions before the Cabinet makes a decision: 

• The Council’s CPO documents confirm what we have known for some time: Renewal and its business partners are currently seeking to sell on some or all of their assets in Lewisham.

• Once the Millwall land is transferred to Renewal, it becomes development land under the planning permission granted and may therefore be sold on rapidly for a substantial profit. We have been offered a derisory sum for our leases because the land, while we lease it, is valued as a car park, even though we have fully developed plans to deliver our own regeneration project, including nearly 400 homes, within the guidelines of the current master plan. 

• Why did Lewisham Council refuse to consider our own development plans when we presented them to the Director of Regeneration and Asset Management in August 2013?

• Why did the Council decline to allow us to bid for the freeholds of the land that we lease, preferring instead to offer them exclusively to Renewal? And why won’t the Council disclose the price at which it proposes to sell our land to Renewal? 

• The Council’s CPO report is disingenuous with regard to our proposed plans. We are a football club, not a property developer. We advanced our plans to the point where the Council’s support and involvement was required. We wrote to the Council explaining that. We undertook to hand back our land to the Council if mutually agreed development milestones were not adhered to. And we offered to share with the Council our profits from our scheme to the benefit of the local community. Has Renewal offered to share its profits?

• Why has Lewisham chosen to partner with an opaque developer whose ultimate holding companies are registered offshore. One, according to the Council’s CPO report, “is ultimately controlled by a family trust” and the other “is ultimately controlled by a charitable trust.” The Council admits that there are no audited accounts for the parent shareholders “by reason of them not being based in the UK.” Who are these beneficiaries that apparently cannot be identified? How will the local community benefit from the profits? Millwall, by contrast, is a transparent, well-financed and local football club.

• The Council’s CPO report makes repeated comments concerning the viability of the Renewal scheme. However, at no point is the extent or absence of viability described or analysed. This is a point of major importance to Millwall as we cannot understand why we should be excluded on the basis of these unsupported assertions. The viability question has been cloaked in secrecy throughout the process. Furthermore none of the documents relating to viability or financial due diligence is included with the report as background papers despite that fact that these are patently fundamental to the decision to be taken.

• Renewal has no track record in carrying out a major development project. Two of its directors are former teachers with apparently no experience of housing or regeneration.

• In rejecting Millwall’s requests to participate in the New Bermondsey regeneration project, the Council implied that only Renewal could undertake the scheme. However, the CPO report confirms that “Renewal will dispose of (by way of development agreements with house builders) individual development plots/phases in an ordered manner over the development period.” If Renewal will not now undertake the whole scheme, why is Millwall being excluded? Rather than take away our land, why don’t they ask us to implement our development scheme? 

• The Council’s CPO report states that “the regeneration scheme will only be achieved in a reasonable time period if the Council assist the land assembly by the exercise of its CPO powers.” Yet Millwall has the professional team of advisers, the funding and the will to proceed with its scheme – probably faster than Renewal, especially since Renewal is apparently intending to sell some of the land that the Council has helped it acquire.

• The Surrey Canal Sports Foundation, a charity established by Renewal to build the proposed new sports centre where the Millwall Community Trust will apparently be re-housed, has liabilities of £607,722, most of which is owed to Renewal. Claims are being made that the charity has already raised significant funds. Virtually none of that money exists in cash terms. It is made up of the estimated value of the land and various pledges that have yet to materialise. 

• Our proposed scheme provides for The Millwall Community Trust to have new premises alongside our stadium where it belongs. It will not be charged rent, neither will it be obliged to share its facilities, as would be the case if it is kicked out of The Lions Centre and moved to Renewal’s proposed new sports complex which is still largely unfunded and may never get built. Our community scheme is widely regarded as one of the best in the football fraternity and we intend to keep it that way.

• Our long term survival will depend on our ability to generate non-football revenues. Over the past nine years, I have invested more than £48m in Millwall to help us through the inevitable ups and downs of life as a professional football club. Millwall is core to the Council’s stated strategy for the Borough. It doesn’t seem that way to me! 

I therefore call on the Cabinet to reject this CPO proposal and engage constructively with Millwall so that we can work together in delivering this important regeneration project. At the very least, I suggest we be given the opportunity to present our proposals formally to the Council so that we can demonstrate the viability of our plans for the area adjoining our stadium. 

You will see that we have an attractive scheme that is consistent with the existing planning approvals and which can deliver nearly 400 new homes and improved accommodation for local businesses without the controversy and community unrest that the CPO process is generating. 

Yours faithfully,

John Berylson,

Chairman, Millwall FC

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