Millwall Football Club have demanded that Lewisham Council halt plans to allow the compulsory purchase of land around their stadium for property developers Renewal, who are planning a major housing and retail development in the area.
The club say the compulsory purchase orders will affect their leisure centre, car park and training pitches as well as local businesses, such as a cafe, which supports the stadium. The land is leased by the Council to the club.
It is also demanding the publication of a full report by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers on the scheme, the New Bermondsey project, which has only been published in redacted form after a Freedom of Information request. The club claim the Council is favouring the developers over the interests of the club.
In a letter on Monday to Lewisham councillors, Lions Chairman, John Berylson said: “As there are still outstanding questions from the redacted areas of the report, which have a direct bearing on how and why decisions were taken in favour of Renewal, and against Millwall, we call on the council to stop the compulsory purchase order (CPO) until we discover the truth.”
The £2 billion development scheme, part funded with public money under the London Mayor’s Housing Zone programme to promote urban renewal, will create 2,400 homes, a sports centre and a new London Overground station.
“My gut feeling is that there is an unhealthy relationship between Lewisham Council and Renewal,” said Richard Pickering, owner of Millwall Cafe, one of the businesses resisting the CPO’s, which would compel remaining residents and businesses owners who have held out against Renewal’s offers to sell up.
“They are a company domiciled in the Isle of Man with ultimate ownership in the British Virgin Isles,” Pickering added.
Renewal is jointly owned by Incorporated Holdings Ltd (IHL), registered in the Isle of Man and Independent Advisors Incorporated, registered in the British Virgin Isles.
Renewal’s longstanding links to Lewisham Council are public knowledge. Former Mayor of Lewisham David Sullivan founded Renewal in 2002 and in 2006 was reported to own 26 per cent of its shares although he has later said the shares have been sold. While, Mushtaq Malik, former senior Lewisham officer, is now chief executive of Renewal.
Surrey Canal Sports Foundation, a charity set up by Renewal to manage the area’s transition to a sporting village, includes current Lewisham Mayor Sir Steven Bullock as one of the trustees, along with Renewal director, Jordana Malik, daughter of Mushtaq.
The CPOs were finalised by Lewisham Council on September 7 but were put on hold on September 28 after it was reported that Incorporated Holdings Limited, of Renewal’s two joint owners, was putting its stake up for sale; Lewisham is now trying to ascertain whether the reports are correct.
“The democratic process of the compulsory purchase order was subject to a decision from our cabinet,” said Councillor Alan Hall, chair of the Councils overview and scrutiny committee. “Now, we are all awaiting the outcome of that investigation because without the CPO decision being ratified the scheme is going to fail.”
Renewal said it was assisting with the investigation “so as to enable the CPO process to continue,” and stressed that at no time have they, or their ultimate owners sought a sale of the scheme and nor do they intend to do so.
Renewal have bought 90 per cent of the required land since 2004, amounting to about 80 properties. They claim they need to own the remaining 22 ‘identified land interests’ outside of their ownership which are required in order to complete the scheme.
“We consider the offer [for the Millwall Cafe] derisory,” said Pickering. “By the time we’ve paid off the bank loan, staff redundancies and the initial costs, it won’t leave enough to buy a similar business.”
Winston Willow, an artist, claimed she was offered £58,000 for her home by the developers, which she says is a 10th of its value. She was angered further by Renewal erecting 2mx1m signs by her house prior to the granting of the CPO, warning: “Remaining landowners please be aware that it will be in your interest to avoid the impending compulsory purchase order.” The company have since apologised for the signs.
Local businesspeople and residents have said they are deeply troubled by the lack of meaningful discussion between themselves and Renewal. The developers have stated that CPOs remain a last resort.
Credit: Mattha Busby, Danny Lavelle & Nick Thompson
Last October, Lewisham Council’s Local Plan For Public Consultation stated their strategic target for affordable housing as 50 per cent. However, Renewal’s plans do not include any social housing and 10 per cent – about 240 properties – are said to be ”affordable”.
“Considering that Lewisham Council own much of the land,” said Pickering. “I find this completely outrageous, since they have the ability to say ‘this is our land and we want 100 per cent social housing on it’.”