The independent inquiry into circumstances surrounding the proposed redevelopment of 30 acres of land in Lewisham close to the stadium of Millwall Football Club will examine a series of key decisions made by politicians and officers of Lewisham Council going back to March 2012, it has been announced.
The inquiry, chaired by former senior judge Lord Dyson, says in an opening statement that it will be “inquisitorial in nature” and seek evidence from key individuals and organisations “with a view to determining whether the council, its members and officers have acted properly and with due diligence when taking decisions in relation to the regeneration of this land”.
The inquiry was established by Labour-run Lewisham Council following a series of media allegations about the processes leading to property developer Renewal securing outline planning permission for the intended New Bermondsey scheme and the council’s continuing support for it. Lord Dyson was appointed to lead the inquiry by the chairman of the Bar Council in March.
The opening statement lists eight areas for investigation, covering the council’s decisions about the use of its compulsory purchase powers (CPO) with a view to taking control of land adjacent to Millwall’s stadium, which it currently leases to the club and its associated community trust, and the granted of the planning permission, together with the related financial viability appraisal and conditional land sale agreement between the council and Renewal. The council dropped its use of CPO in January, following a number of articles in The Guardian and expressions of concern by some local Labour politicians.
Other matters to be explored include the council’s pledge of £500,000 to a charitable trust set up by Renewal to run a new indoor sports stadium that would be part of New Bermondsey and its support for Renewal’s successful bid for New Bermondsey to be designated a housing zone by the Greater London Authority under the mayoralty of Boris Johnson in 2015. The opening statement says the scope of the inquiry could be widened later. It intends to present its report to the council by the end of the year.
The football club, which operates within a holding company that is 70% owned by the American private equity firm Chestnut Hill Ventures, has claimed that the New Bermondsey scheme could force it to move to Kent. However, Renewal and the council, which owns the freehold of the land on which the stadium stands, insist they see the club’s remaining where it is as integral to the New Bermondsey project.
Willow Winston, an artist who owns a studio in the area, is standing as a candidate in the general election, backed by a Millwall supporters group opposed to the New Bermondsey scheme. Winston, who is the sister of scientist Professor Robert Winston, is contesting the Lewisham East constituency. This does not contain the Millwall ground, but was reportedly chosen by Winston because it is being defended by Labour’s Heidi Alexander, a former Lewisham councillor, deputy mayor and cabinet member for regeneration. She has been MP for Lewisham East since 2010.
A beginner’s guide to the New Bermondsey controversies is here.