On 21 August, Millwall Football Club (MFC) wrote an open letter, signed by Chief Executive Steve Kavanagh, to the five candidates who are seeking the nomination to be Lewisham’s Labour candidate at the mayoral election in May 2018.
The letter asked each candidate five key questions about their views and policies regarding the future of the New Bermondsey/Surrey Canal Triangle regeneration project. It has become a high profile focal point of the Lewisham Labour election campaign. The project has a direct bearing on the future of MFC, and its community scheme Millwall Community Trust (MCT), because Lewisham Council’s Mayor and Cabinet have attempted to use a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to seize the land leased by MFC and MCT. The MFC letter was also signed by MCT Chief Executive Steve Bradshaw. The CPO would be required in order that the Council can sell the freeholds of the Millwall land to Renewal, a local property developer whose two parent companies are registered in the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man respectively. Renewal was founded by a former leader and a former senior officer of Lewisham Council.
Although the Lewisham Cabinet voted in favour of using a CPO in September 2016, that decision was challenged by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee. In February 2017 Lewisham Council announced that it was appointing Lord Dyson, former Master of the Rolls, to lead a public inquiry into the proposed development and some of the decisions and behaviour of the Council and Renewal. Lord Dyson is due to report later this year. In the meantime, Lewisham Council has stated that the proposed CPO cannot proceed and a fresh CPO proposal would be required if the Council were to continue with its previous plan to help Renewal acquire the land in the proposed development site.
Millwall Football Club has always been in favour of an urban regeneration scheme to develop the land around its stadium. It helped in the early stages of the project with the planning application and the S106 agreement and always believed that it would be able to participate in the scheme and benefit from it. However, Lewisham Council decided that only Renewal could undertake the development and has shut out MFC and other property developers from the process even though the football club asked to buy the land it leased and presented its initial development plans to the Council. If the land around Millwall’s stadium is sold to property developers, Millwall Football Club has made it clear that it will have no option but to consider whether it can remain at its current location. It must consider the implications for the operation of its stadium which would be surrounded by developable land over which it has no control or interest.
MFC asked the candidates the following questions:
1) Would you support the introduction of a fresh compulsory purchase order over the land (“the Millwall land”) currently owned by Lewisham Council and leased to MFC and MCT?
2) Do you support the sale of the freeholds of the Millwall land?
3) Would you support Millwall Football Club’s ambition to participate in the regeneration of the land around our stadium, provided such participation was in accordance with the Core strategy?
4) Do you understand that there is a serious possibility that MFC and MCT will not remain at their current locations in the event the land around them is sold?
5) At last year's Labour Conference John McDonnell announced that a Labour government would ban publicly funded bodies from awarding contracts to companies registered in offshore tax havens. Do you support that policy?
Four of the five candidates have responded to the open letter. Councillors Alan Hall, Brenda Dacres and Paul Bell have all expressed clear support for Millwall’s position and firm opposition to the use of CPOs. They are all opposed to the sale of the freeholds which are owned by Lewisham Council.
Councillor Paul Maslin has expressed clear support for the approach adopted by the Mayor and Cabinet. If elected he would support the introduction of a fresh CPO in favour of Renewal.
Councillor Damien Egan has not responded at all. He was sent the letter twice and then MFC wrote to him again asking if it was his intention to reply and alerting him to the fact that the letters would be published. He has not responded to that follow-up. We do not therefore know where Cllr Egan stands on these important issues. He is the Cabinet member for Housing and voted in favour of the CPO in September 2016. At that time, the level of affordable housing in the Renewal scheme was 12%. In January 2017, Cllr Egan published a statement expressing doubts about Renewal and the proposed regeneration project. His view was that more affordable housing was required, although there had been no change to the 12% level he had apparently been happy to vote for four months earlier. He wrote: “I’ve been the Cabinet Member for Housing in Lewisham for the last two years, social and affordable housing is my top priority.” As far as we know, there was no social housing in the Renewal plan. He acknowledged that there were growing concerns about the compulsory purchase orders, and he said that he wanted Millwall to stay in Lewisham. He even went so far as to state that “we should completely revisit the planning application that was made by Renewal in 2011 and go back to the drawing board.”
If he was prepared to publish those beliefs in January, we cannot understand why he is not able to state them now as firm and clear policies in the event that he is elected Labour’s mayoral candidate. The Club would welcome a clear response to its questions from Councillor Egan.
The four replies to MFC's letter are as follows:
The statement published by Cllr Egan in January, available to view by clicking here, may reflect his current views.