Plans to seize Millwall FC land are disintegrating after it emerged Lewisham Labour councillors are in revolt against the scheme.
Opposition to the compulsory purchase order (CPO) of land around The Den gained strength when deputy mayor councillor Alan Hall called for an independent inquiry into the Renewal development.
He was backed in a vote on Monday, January 23, by 45 of the borough’s 54 elected councillors and Lewisham chief executive Barry Quirk said he is now urgently making arrangements for an external review.
The news was followed on Tuesday by Cllr Damien Egan, cabinet member for housing, announcing he no longer supported the scheme due to serious doubts over Renewal, the off-shore company behind the scheme.
He was previously an ally of mayor Sir Steve Bullock in support of the land grab but in a statement said: “In the past months new information has come to light and there have been growing concerns about the proposed compulsory purchase, for development, of land next to Millwall Football Stadium. I share those concerns, I know my colleagues do too.”
He said more information was needed about who the financial beneficiaries of the Renewal scheme were, and that allegations its charity Surrey Canal Sports Foundation making misleading claims about a £2million funding pledge from Sport England “completely undermined” the company’s credibility.
The Charity Commission has begun an investigation after the funder said it had no funding agreement, of any kind, in place with the foundation.
Cllr Egan said: “We should completely revisit the planning application that was made by Renewal in 2011 and go back to the drawing board.
“The councillors who agreed this original scheme did so back in 2011; they made a decision based on a very different economic backdrop. If a scheme were submitted today it would likely include much more affordable housing.”
Labour councillor Kevin Bonavia said he would not support the CPO in its ‘current form’ and fellow party member councillor Brenda Dacres, who represents the New Cross ward which encompasses land around the Den, has also condemned the plans.
In a statement she said: “I welcome this change of heart from Cllr Egan. In September, the Cabinet voted 6 to 1 in favour of the Compulsory Purchase Order. But since then, the case has fallen apart, and local concern has only grown.
“We need to go back to the drawing board. Any regeneration of the area must ensure Millwall FC and the Millwall Community Scheme have a secure and sustainable future in the borough. But we also need greater transparency in the process and much more affordable housing; 12% just is not good enough.”
Lewisham had already delayed a final decision on the CPO until January 11 but it was postponed again at the final hour after Millwall FC said they could be forced to leave their historic home if the sale went head.
A new meeting was scheduled for February but there is now doubt over when a decision will be made.
Cllr Smith has written to Millwall’s chief executive Steve Kavanagh to ask for a meeting so they can find a way forward. He said: “Lewisham Councillors have backed my call for a full independent inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase Orders and other key matters surrounding the issue.
“Furthermore, given the nature and seriousness of longstanding concerns over the CPO, heightened by false funding claims, Lewisham’s Cabinet should now back our call-in and overturn their original decision to take Millwall’s land.”
Lewisham chief executive Barry Quirk told London News Online he would be urgently arranging an independent external review of the CPO and said: “I feel this is entirely sensible under the circumstances.”
A statement from The Association of Millwall Supporters said: “Fans can regard this news as two major battles won, but not yet the war itself.
“The AMS protest campaign will not end until the CPO process has been definitively terminated by Lewisham Council and Mayor Steve Bullock has proffered his resignation.”
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