Lewisham Council set to approve New Bermondsey compulsory purchase orders


Millwall Stadium. Pic: Matha Busby

Millwall Stadium. Pic: Mattha Busby

Lewisham Council’s cabinet will decide this week whether to approve the controversial compulsory purchase of homes on the massive New Bermondsey regeneration development despite internal and external opposition.

Renewal, the developers of the proposed 30-acre New Bermondsey retail and housing development, who have longstanding links with the council, have been backed by council officials who have confirmed they believed there was  ”a compelling case” in the public interest for the compulsory acquisition of the remaining land to enable the scheme to proceed.

The stance taken by officials comes despite the misgivings of the council’s own Overview and Scrutiny committee and the emergence of a sales brochure for ownership of part of the development – said to have been prepared without the knowledge of the companies directly responsible.

As previously reported, the development was initially delayed due to a committee ruling that a compulsory purchase order of the homes, workplaces and land Renewal did not already control was not in the public interest.

On Thursday, the cabinet –  which has previously voted 6-1 in favour of  the CPOs  – will vote whether they agree the forced sale of  homes and other properties in South Bermondsey around Millwall F.C.’s ground, the New Den, is in the public interest.

If the council ratify the CPO’s, it will split councillors and pit the council and Renewal on one side; and residents and local businesspeople including Millwall Football Club, who will lose their carpark and community centre on the other.

The New Bermondsey sales brochure was produced by Lambeth Smith Hampton, a city estate agent. The council officials had to ascertain whether they did so on behalf of Incorporated Holdings Limited, who control 50 per cent of Renewal, or if it was prepared without their knowledge.

Given that the document suggested Renewal’s paymasters were seeking to make a quick return on the land, this threw the entire development into jeopardy.

After investigating the veracity of the document, officials have accepted that LSH acted independently in preparing the document.

The report read: “IHL/Renewal have confirmed that, as with the LSH Brochure, LSH were given no instructions to prepare this documentation, nor did IHL or Renewal see or approve it.

Willow Winston, an artist who stands to lose her home and studio which is held under freehold rejected the explanation. “They’re now calling it a flimsy document that any estate agent would put out as if they would do it on such a big case without any permission.”

“I find the explanations that nobody knew anything about it a little hard to swallow,” said John Paschoud, a Lewisham Labour councillor and member of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Renewal currently own 90 per cent of the land required for the New Bermondsey development, which is set to entirely remould South Bermondsey into something akin to Canary Wharf. Twenty-two properties remain in local hands, some of which are under freehold, which permits a lifelong lease, and these will be the subject of any future CPO.

Mark Taylor, director of Renewal,  said: “We are pleased to learn of the outcome of Lewisham Council’s investigation into the Lambert Smith Hampton brochure, which confirms that at no point did Renewal or its shareholders instruct LSH to prepare this documentation, nor did we see or approve it.”

The first page of the brochure. Pic: Lewisham Council

The first page of the brochure. Pic: Lewisham Council

“We now await the Council’s decision on the use of CPO powers and look forward to continuing to work with the Council, land-owners and Millwall Football Club to ensure that New Bermondsey, one of the largest regeneration schemes in London, can become a reality for Lewisham.”

Councillor Alan Hall, chair of the Overview and Scrutiny committee that initially ruled that a CPO was not justified, still believes “there are insufficient grounds for a compelling case in the public interest to confirm the CPO.”

“Who you’re getting into bed with matters,” Hall said. “The kernel of the problem is: who are Renewal, who owns it? Barry Quirk (Chief Executive of Lewisham Council) thinks it doesn’t matter but I do. Their reputation matters and they have no track record of regeneration on this scale.”

“Who you’re getting into bed with matters,” Hall said. “The kernel of the problem is: who are Renewal, who owns it? Barry Quirk (Chief Executive of Lewisham Council) thinks it doesn’t matter but I do. Their reputation matters and they have no track record of regeneration on this scale.”

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee held up the CPOs over concerns regarding deliverability, since Renewal have never attempted a project of this size, the reputational risk to the council, the fundamental absence of any social housing in Renewal’s plans – Lewisham Council target 50 per cent affordable housing on new builds – and the non domiciled tax status of the developer whose owners identities have been protected under data protection legislation.

If the cabinet go ahead with the plans it will be in the face of strident opposition from within the local Labour party. A significant number of councillors have long voiced their scepticism of CPO’s being in the public interest.

“There is a huge amount of opposition in the local Labour Party,” said Richard Pickering, owner of the Millwall Cafe that faces CPO.

“The only beneficiaries of this decision are those in Renewal who appear to include a significant number of ex-Council officials.”

Lewisham Council have historic links to Renewal. Former Mayor of Lewisham David Sullivan founded Renewal in 2002 before selling his 26 per cent of shares to IHL in 2006. Mushtaq Malik, former senior Lewisham housing officer, is now chief executive of Renewal while his daughter Jordana Malik is a director.

Current mayor Stephen Bullock is on the board of the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation, the charity set up by Renewal to manage the area’s transition to a sporting village. As a result, he is unable to vote on anything regarding Renewal due to the conflict of interest.

Prior to the short-lived CPO in September, Renewal erected signs warning residents to do business with them and sell up before the CPO became operational.

The document produced by LSH also made the explicit assertion that a CPO had been granted despite the fact it was produced around May, before the CPO’s brief existence.

The £1 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 3000 seat multipurpose arena, a home for the London Amateur Boxing Association and a new London Overground station.

Hall said that if the cabinet approves the CPO then there will be an inquiry because “there is a list as long as my arm of people prepared to take this case to the Secretary of State.”

Lewisham Council did not respond to requests for comment.

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