Lewisham Labour mayoral hopefuls set out differing views on Millwall and New Bermondsey scheme

by Dave Hill

Three Labour councillors hoping to become the next executive mayor of Lewisham have set out sometimes sharply different positions on a controversial regeneration plan in the borough, which would involve the redevelopment of a 30-acre site in South Bermondsey and affect Millwall Football Club, a prominent opponent of the scheme.

Alan Hall, Brenda Dacres and Paul Maslin, who are among five councillors seeking selection as Labour’s candidate for next May’s mayoral election, have published their responses to an open letter from Millwall chief executive Steve Kavanagh and his counterpart Steve Bradshaw of the associated Millwall Community Trust (MCT) asking for contenders’ views on the project, known as New Bermondsey, including the use by the council of compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers to help it progress.

Hall, who chairs the council’s overview and scrutiny committee and criticised an earlier move, later abandoned, by the council to use CPO to secure two pieces of land next to the club’s stadium, says he would “not support” any new attempt to do so, arguing that it “would not be compelling or in the public interest”. He also says he opposes the possible subsequent disposal of the freeholds of the land, which the council owns and had intended to sell to Renewal. Lewisham leases the land to the club and the MCT.

Dacres, a member of the committee Hall chairs, takes the same view, stressing that she spoke against the CPO when the cabinet was considering it and stating her general opposition to the sale of council land, “which should be used to build council homes and homes with truly affordable rents”.

Like Hall, Dacres gives credence to the claim by the football club and MCT that there is “a serious possibility” that they would have to move should the land around them by sold. Both describe the organisations as of value to the area and both say they support shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s promise that a Labour government would prevent public bodies awarding contracts to companies registered offshore, as Renewal is.

However, Maslin, who is the current mayor’s cabinet member for children and young people, has given a firm “yes” to support for a fresh CPO and to the sale of the freeholds in question by the council. He also takes issue with the claim that the club and MCT may have to move, describing it as “implausible to me once subjected to the most cursory examination”, saying there is no evidence to substantiate recent claims by the club’s chairman and effective owner, American businessman John Berylson, that Lewisham, which is also the freeholder of the Millwall stadium’s land, wants the club gone and questions whether it could afford to relocate, given its financial position.

Maslim also questions whether Millwall FC, which is part of a holding company 70% owned by US private equity firm Chestnut Hill Ventures, would be able to get planning consent for a new stadium somewhere else, citing the reputation of some of its supporters: “The notion that the prospect of the arrival of an organisation that revels in its motto, ‘No one likes us and we don’t care’, would be greeted with enthusiasm by its prospective new neighbours, is probably excessively optimistic.” On Renewal’s tax position, he says that all profits from the New Bermondsey scheme “would be taxed in the UK, as required by HMRC.”

The council abandoned its CPO in January following assertions by the Guardian that “false claims” about funding support had been made by a charity founded by Renewal to run a new sports centre that would be built in the redevelopment area, and set up an independent inquiry, led by former Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, into matters relating to the CPO, including key council decisions.

Last month, government regulator the Charity Commission found that statements made by the charity, the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation Limited, “were made in good faith and did not have the intention to mislead”. The commission also dismissed other concerns about the charity that had been raised with it by a member of the public.

The differing stances of Hall and Dacres on the one hand and Maslin on the other demonstrate the divisions and unease among Lewisham council members over New Bermondsey since the scheme became the subject of unfavourable media coverage. In January this prompted another mayoral hopeful, Councillor Damien Egan, the current cabinet member for housing, advocating revisiting the original planning application made by Renewal in 2011 – before he took up his present council position – and saying that the Guardian’s “false claims” articles “completely undermine Renewal’s credibility”.

Egan expects to produce his response to the Millwall and MCT open letter soon. The fifth Lewisham councillor seeking the mayoral nomination, Paul Bell, has been contact by On London, seeking his. Ballot papers have been sent out to local Labour members and others entitled to vote in the selection ballot. The result is expected later this month, prior to the party’s annual conference.

Update 9 September: Damien Egan and Paul Bell have now come out against Lewisham using CPO powers to secure the contested land next to Millwall FC and expressed sympathy with the club’s position on the New Bermondsey redevelopment plan. Egan answers to the club’s questions are here and Bell’s are here.

Labour Lewisham’s mayoral candidate selection contest is addressing many other issues in the borough, including health, housing and schools. Read for yourselves the views on these of councillors Bell, Dacres, Egan, Hall and Maslin.

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