sports gazette

Millwall's CPO win merely a late equaliser against Lewisham Council

Published: 2 Feb 2017

The past six months have been tough for Millwall both on and off the pitch, with their quest for promotion going alongside a fight against Lewisham Council to save their stadium.

Millwall fans often take pride in no one liking them. But football fans everywhere were celebrating on Wednesday January 25, when the mayor of Lewisham council, Sir Steve Bullock, released a statement saying plans for the compulsory purchase order (CPO) of land around The New Den “should not proceed”.

The CPO would have seen land currently occupied by Millwall sold to Renewal – a property development firm which gained planning permission in 2011 for a £2billion New Bermondsey-branded regeneration scheme around The New Den.

The proposed scheme included 2,400 new homes, a church-mosque complex and a “business incubation and creative space” and would have been part-publicly funded under the former London mayor Boris Johnson’s Housing Zone programme.

‘New Bermondsey’ would have replaced several businesses around The New Den, including Millwall Café and garages used by local minicab firms.

Though the order was not directly evicting Millwall from their stadium, chief executive Steve Kavanagh was forced to admit there was a possibility the club would have had to leave.

Speaking to London Live on January 7th, Kavanagh said: “In the event that the CPO is confirmed, then we have to consider every option and I was asked the question ‘would we consider relocating’.

“And the answer is we’d have to consider everything, so yes we would have to consider that.

“That would have implications for the fans, and more importantly, for the borough and the community we’ve lived in since 1910.”

A scrutiny committee led by Labour councillor Alan Hall pushed for an inquiry into the plans but ultimately, the fight was won by Millwall’s supporters’ groups and a high-profile journalist.

Renewal was originally set up and part-owned by previous mayor of Lewisham David Sullivan, who was also a one-time director at Millwall.

Current mayor Sir Bullock is also director of a company called Surrey Canal Sports Foundation – which was set up by Renewal.

This would have resulted in councillors past and present benefitting financially from the sale of land around The New Den – something that did not sit with campaigners.

This information was brought to light thanks to fantastic work by Guardian journalist Barney Ronay, whose coverage of the fight was unrivalled.

Ronay uncovered the possible game-changing story just one week before the decision came.

On January 11th, he reported that claims of a £2million Sport England pledge that had been a key part of the plans by Lewisham council and Surrey Canal Sports Foundation were false.

In another piece for the Guardian, Ronay asked: “Why is Lewisham so eager to compulsorily purchase Millwall’s land – a genuinely hostile move from the club’s former sponsor – on behalf of an opaque offshore developer?

“Raising the genuinely jaw-dropping prospect of a council using its statutory CPO powers – permissible where a clear public good is shown – to help increase the profits of its private developer partner.”

Also a big part of the win was the Association of Millwall Supporters (AMS) who campaigned relentlessly against the scheme through the use of social media and their own investigation team.

A spokesman for AMS said they were concerned the democratic powers of Lewisham residents and fans were being trampled on by the powers of big financial companies.

Like The New Den, Beckenham Place Park sits on the boundary of Lewisham borough, with the borders going around the outskirts of the park. 

In October 2016, Lewisham council were successful in closing football pitches and the last inner-London public golf course in favour of a £5million renovation of Beckenham Place Park – funded by a Lottery Heritage Fund grant.

The threatened closure led to protests outside Catford Town Hall run by Lewisham People Before Profit, who were outraged at the apparent lack of regard by the mayor.

Speaking at the protest, Lewisham People Before Profit leader John Hamilton said, “It looks as though there might be some attempt to make Beckenham have no formal sport, just informal.

“And if it has no formal sport, it enjoys less protection legally and it would be easier for the mayor to sell off either all of the park or part of the park.

“And that would be completely against what we stand for and one of our main aims is to keep public services as being not for profit and run by the council and people employed by the council, not privatised.”

However, the golf course was closed by the council and the park has since been used for high-profile cycling events.

Though it was a win for a football club so important to its local area, it was merely a late equaliser in the greater match that appears to be happening between Lewisham council and its community.

Fact file 

Compulsory Purchase Order: 
A compulsory purchase order is a legal function in the United Kingdom and Ireland that allows certain bodies which need to obtain land or property to do so without the consent of the owner. It may be enforced if a proposed development is considered one for public betterment; for example, when building motorways where a land owner does not want to sell.

Scrutiny Committee: 
A scrutiny committee plays a similar role to that of the backbenchers watching the Executive – their job is to develop and review policy and make recommendations to the council.

About Lewisham Council:
 Has been a Labour-controlled council since 1971, when it was a Conservative council for just three years.
Lewisham Council, unlike most English councils, is led by a directly-elected mayor. The first mayoral election was in 2002 and was won by the Labour Party candidate, Steve Bullock, who was re-elected in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Following the 2014 council elections, there are 53 Labour Party councillors and one Green Party councillor.
Recently successfully appealed a decision to close Lewisham Hospital.

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