Businesses in Bermondsey have reacted angrily to the news that Millwall could be forced to move out of its home of more than 100 years if controversial regeneration plans go ahead.
In response to speculation that the League One club could move if Lewisham Council goes ahead with plans to compulsory purchase land the club leases for its Community Trust, café and car park from the authority, local business owners have said they wanted the club to stay.
Millwall chief executive Steve Kavanagh yesterday, Thursday, admitted for the first time that the club may be forced to leave its south Bermondsey home and relocate should the seizure of its land be given the green light.
In a statement to the Guardian, he said: “The chairman has always been determined that this would never happen, but under such circumstances any and every option would have to be considered to secure the football club and the Millwall Community Trust’s future as viable concerns.”
But businesses in the area say they want Millwall, described as “part of the cultural history of London”, to stay.
Sandra Smith, landlady of the Ancient Foresters pub on the corner of Southwark Park Road and Galleywall Road, said the potential move would be “taking people’s entertainment away”.
Speaking to the News today, she said: “The only thing people have got round here is to go to the football.
“Younger people might be able to travel but older people won’t be able to.
“A lot of people who come into our pub are older and have season tickets and they won’t be able to go [to matches] anymore.
“A lot of people around here go to Millwall and that’s the highlight of their week. People won’t be able to afford to pay the fares to go out there [to Kent].”
The pub boss says she has never had any problems with Millwall supporters and that they are welcome customers at the Ancient Foresters.
“They are lovely customers in our pub and I think it would be sad if they took it away from them,” she said.
“Leave Millwall alone; let them have their enjoyment.”
Sandra’s comments were echoed a stone’s throw away at Blue Anchor Fish and Chips where store manager Soner Cotal reacted to the news.
Soner, a Millwall supporter himself, said he had a lot of regular customers on match days and that he did not want to see the club move.
“We want the club to stay here,” he told the News. “We would like them to stay here; we don’t want to be moved again.
“Many of my customers are Millwall supporters and many say they support Millwall because they live nearby to the club.”
Soner said that, although he sometimes goes along to matches at The Den, he would not travel all the way to Kent to watch Millwall play.
Cllr Alan Hall, chair of Lewisham overview and scrutiny committee, today lambasted the council’s plan to compulsorily purchase areas around The Den and sell them on to offshore developer Renewal.
If a compulsory purchase order is pushed through at a meeting on Wednesday, January 11, the plans would see land used by the Millwall Community Trust and the car park sold to Renewal as part of a 2,400 home development.
Speaking to the News today, Cllr Hall said: “Millwall Football Club are part of the cultural history of London and Lewisham with over 100 years in the borough.
“Over the past five years Renewal’s original outline planning application has fallen apart in slow motion in front of our very eyes.
“Renewal was going to pay for the new station at Surrey Canal Road – the taxpayer is now funding that; there was a multi-faith centre planned for Lewisham’s diverse communities – that is now a cathedral-sized church for Christian evangelists from Australia and the ever-shrinking proposed ‘sporting village’ will drive away one of football’s most famous clubs and its highly successful community scheme providing opportunities for Lewisham’s young people.
“That is bad enough but is also on top of the many questions surrounding governance, due diligence and ownership of Renewal that remain unanswered to this day.”
In response to Millwall chief executive’s comments, a spokesperson for Lewisham Council reassured the News that the authority would protect the stadium.
“The New Bermondsey regeneration has the potential to deliver huge benefits for Lewisham and wider region which is why this CPO has been proposed,” a council spokesman said.
“The scheme would deliver 2,400 desperately needed new homes, a new overground station, new sports facilities and up to 1,500 new permanent jobs.
“An enhanced Millwall stadium, the Den, is at the centre of this regeneration.
“The area around the stadium is currently a run-down, under-used light industrial 30-acre site that needs to work much better for the borough.
“Renewal has assembled most of the land needed for the project.
“The prospective CPO will enable the acquisition of the remaining interests required so this important scheme can be delivered.
“Lewisham Council is very supportive of Millwall Football Club and has consistently said that its ability to operate the stadium must and will be protected.
“The planning permission and related planning agreements provide benefits for the club valued at around £7million, including recladding of the stadium.
“They also protect the club’s ability to expand the stadium should Millwall FC get into the Premier League.
“Lewisham Council’s cabinet will consider all the points that have been raised as part of their decision making when they meet on Wednesday, January 11.”
Mark Taylor, director at Renewal said: “Millwall Football Club is a vital part of the culture and community of north Lewisham, and as such, Renewal’s vision from the outset was to incorporate a successful, self-sustaining football club at the heart of the proposed development.
“The club itself has stated that it’s a big fan of the plans for the regeneration of the Surrey Canal Triangle.
“Through the section 106 agreement, we are committed to providing circa £7million worth of direct benefits to Millwall Football Club, creating a much improved and enjoyable experience for fans.
“These benefits to Millwall Football Club and Millwall Community Trust include:
- Enhanced setting for the stadium with improved facilities for spectators, including a new Overground station, improved access to South Bermondsey and two new bus routes.
- The ability to extend capacity from 20,146 to 26,500 if required.
- Recladding of the Millwall FC Stadium.
- Provision of underground car parking spaces to be used by MFC on event and non-event days.
- Relocation of the Millwall FC memorial garden.
- New ground keepers store.
- Re-provision of coach parking spaces to be used by MFC on event days.
- Parking for outside broadcast vehicles.
- Relocation of the Millwall Community Trust to a state of the art replacement facility
“We are fully committed to bringing positive change to the area 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.”