A number of political figures spoke out in opposition to the feared compulsory purchase order of Millwall FC in the build-up to the now postponed meeting.
Cllr Alan Hall, chair of Lewisham overview and scrutiny committee, lambasted the council’s plan: “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.”
The three chairs of Conservative associations within Lewisham and the former Conservative Lewisham mayoral candidate wrote to Sajid Javid MP, secretary of state for communities and local government, and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, urging them to call in the Millwall decision.
Lewisham Conservatives said on Monday, January 9, that they had no confidence in Lewisham Council making the right decision for residents and called for Mr Javid and Mr Khan to review the whole scheme and decide on the outcome.
Ross Archer, chairman of Lewisham Deptford Conservatives, and whose area will be affected by the proposed development, slammed the council’s handling of the decision.
“I have no confidence in the Labour-dominated Lewisham Council making the right decision on this scheme,” he said in a statement.
“This scheme has not felt right from the start. Lewisham Council have appeared cagey on this for a while – not letting Millwall FC initially know about their plans to sell the land and entering a closed process with Renewal are just a few examples of this.
“If Lewisham residents are to have any confidence in the decision on the development around Millwall it needs to be taken out of the council’s hands.
“I hope the secretary of state or Mayor of London calls this decision in.”
The News contacted the offices of both Mr Javid and Mr Khan this week.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said Mr Javid would not be able to comment until Millwall Football club wrote to the department asking for the decision to be called in.
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The Mayor has no powers to intervene in this compulsory purchase order but is committed to building more new and genuinely affordable homes in the borough, through his New Bermondsey housing zone.
“The Mayor wholeheartedly supports Millwall Football Club staying in Lewisham.”
Former Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes, now a trustee of Millwall Community Trust and the independent director of the London FA, wrote to councillor Alan Smith, Deputy Mayor of Lewisham and chair of Lewisham cabinet, asking the council to “talk to Millwall”.
“I ask Lewisham cabinet members in the strongest terms to talk to Millwall, not threaten them,” he said.
“Lewisham Council should be supporting their borough’s biggest sporting asset – not putting the local future of the club and the trust at risk.”
“However embarrassing for the Mayor and councillors to change their minds, if Lewisham Council have any understanding of the benefit of Millwall FC and Millwall Community Trust to the people of Lewisham and Southwark they should stop the compulsory purchase plan now,” he added in a statement to the News.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron was the first senior political figure to weigh in on the controversy. In a statement to The Guardian, he called on Lewisham Council to consider the full repercussions of its land seizure. He said it would be “heartbreaking” if the decision to sell the land on to a developer led to the club having to consider leaving the borough.
“Football clubs are a crucial part of British society and are at the heart of our communities,” he said.
“I know how heartbreaking it would be for Millwall’s fans and the local community if their club was forced to move against their wishes.”