Statement by MFC Chairman, John Berylson
Lord Dyson’s inquiry and our appeal against the Freedom of Information Tribunal
Tuesday 12 December 2017
Further to MFC’s statement of 1 December 2017, I have now decided to release in full the letter that I wrote to Lord Dyson on 6 December. He has not yet responded, and perhaps needs more time. However, we are being asked important questions about the current situation and I have been made aware that some Lewisham Councillors are providing aggressive and derogatory commentaries about Millwall Football Club and its current position with regard to the proposed New Bermondsey development. There are clear indications that Lewisham Council intends to bring back the compulsory purchase orders on the so-called ‘Millwall land’ and pick up from where it left off almost a year ago. This in spite of Lord Dyson’s call in his report for “a period of calm reflection”.
If it is true that Lewisham Council remains intent on the use of CPOs – in spite of Lewisham Labour’s elected mayoral candidate, Damien Egan, publicly stating that he opposed such a move – to seize the leases on the land around The Den in order to sell the freeholds of that land to Renewal, then we will continue to defend our position robustly. We remain firmly in favour of the development of the site adjoining our stadium and we reconfirm our wish to be a participant in that project for the overall benefit of this community. The Council claimed more than five years ago that only Renewal could deliver the development project; so far Renewal has delivered nothing. Surely it is time for the Council to consider a better way to get things done rather than further delay the process with the use of CPOs?
Many serious concerns have been raised over the years – not only by Millwall Football Club and the Millwall Community Trust – about the political and moral behaviour of Lewisham Council, its decision to give Renewal the exclusive rights to develop New Bermondsey and the potential negative impact on the football club and its community scheme.
In my letter, now disclosed in full, I questioned why Lord Dyson had chosen to ignore some of our evidence, had published evidence from other sources that we had never seen and on which we had had no chance to comment, and why he did not address some of the concerns expressed by those who do not support Lewisham’s approach to New Bermondsey. In my letter I included:
• Errors of fact about the threat to the Millwall Academy if it is moved to the proposed new sports centre; about negotiations with Lewisham Council over terms for proposed new lease arrangements in 2010; and about the roles and responsibilities of one of our consultants;
• We did not bid for our land because the Council had told us that it did not plan to sell the freeholds and, when it changed its mind, gave us just three working days’ notice and no details about exactly what land it intended to sell. Renewal was not the only potential buyer, but seems to have been the only buyer acceptable to Lewisham;
• We could not put forward serious detailed planning proposals for land that had been promised to Renewal in a conditional land sale agreement. Detailed planning proposals require significant time and money. Nobody with any sense would commission full plans for land controlled by a hostile third party. We explained this to Lord Dyson, but he largely disregarded it;
• Full financial due diligence has not been carried out on Renewal even though Council officers said it was a pre-condition of a CPO, and no due diligence has been carried out on the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation and its proposed Energize sports centre as far as we know, yet it is a separate entity from Renewal;
• Renewal did continue to claim that funding was agreed with Sport England long after Sport England had asked them not to. Lord Dyson published Renewal’s apology, but deems this to be ‘an unfortunate oversight’ and ‘regrettable’. The funding claims made by the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation, a charity, were a key catalyst in Lewisham’s decision to commission an inquiry which has cost Lewisham’s taxpayers a large amount of money. That too is regrettable;
• The New Bermondsey site was being offered for sale in April/May 2015 on behalf of one of Renewal’s shareholders according to information we have received from another developer. We provided that information to Lord Dyson. He concluded that Renewal was not aware of the activities of one of its shareholders. This is an extraordinary conclusion and one which should cause considerable concern in Lewisham Council. How could it safely do business with a company that doesn’t know what one of its two shareholders may be doing?
Very disappointingly, we learnt that Lord Dyson based some of his findings on the conclusions of the Freedom of Information Tribunal, hence I have pointed out to him that that judgement contained errors of fact. I can now confirm that MFC has lodged an appeal against some of the decisions of the First Tier Tribunal. That matter is far from concluded and it was not appropriate for Lord Dyson to draw conclusions from an incomplete legal process.
Finally, I am being asked with mounting concern whether it is true that we are considering a move from Lewisham Borough. While I should emphasise that this is emphatically not our preferred option, I must confirm that we are obliged to give this our full consideration and have already taken steps to investigate alternative sites with relevant third parties. It will be extremely difficult to see a long term future in a borough where our local authority is unhelpful and hostile to us and where a property developer has preferential treatment and seems intent on acting against our best interests. The Council continues to state, notably to Lord Dyson, that it sees MFC as being at the heart of the new community it envisages. Its current deeds do not match those words.
If we move, our community scheme will move with us. The Millwall Community Trust may be a separate legal entity but its funding comes primarily either directly from Millwall Football Club or through a variety of football-related bodies from whom the MCT attracts funding because it carries the ‘Millwall’ name. The MCT makes a very significant contribution to the Borough of Lewisham. Only Millwall Football Club can guarantee its long term future.
My fellow Directors and I are dismayed by these extended battles. They distract us from the most important task of advancing Millwall Football Club on the pitch. I have been Chairman now for more than a decade. The Club has existed for over 130 years. I have funded the Club, I have asked to participate in the development of the Millwall land and I have committed to leaving the proceeds of any development in the Football Club and sharing profits with the Council.
After the bulldozers and the builders have gone, I hope that Millwall Football Club will still be at the heart of this community. However that requires Lewisham Council to act as it speaks and work with the borough’s long established Football Club to provide the regeneration the area needs.