Millwall’s chairman has warned fans that the club’s “long term survival” is being threatened by a Lewisham Council proposal to take land surrounding the Den and pass it onto a property developer.
The controversial decision, which was due to be made as the News went to press on Wednesday, would see the council impose a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on land, which would then be sold to Renewal.
Millwall chairman John Berlyson and the club’s fans urged the council to rethink the move and consider the club’s own proposals for the area, which would include affordable homes, retail space and student accommodation.
Mr Berlyson said: “While we continue to fight every week to return to the Championship, off the pitch we face a challenge which threatens the Club’s very survival.
“We have resisted this because we want to continue to be an active participant in the regeneration of New Bermondsey, not just an onlooker.”
Renewal’s New Bermondsey development is set to create 2,400 homes, a £42m sports complex, a multi-faith centre, a hotel, medical facilities, a conference centre, as well as a new Overground train station.
Mr Berlyson, who has invested nearly £50m into the club, added: “We have been offered a derisory sum for our leases because the land, while we lease it, is valued as a car park, even though we have fully developed plans to deliver our own regeneration project.”
Nearly 12,000 people have signed a ‘Defend Our Den’ petition, which was organised by life-long fan Peter Garston and calls on the council to halt their plans.
Mr Garston said: “I’ve supported Millwall as a man and boy for 45 years. The club has been my family. Like all families, we’ve had highs and lows but one thing has stayed constant – the club has been proud to be part of the community.
“That’s why fans are appalled that three important areas of land currently leased to the club and the Community Scheme – including the Lions Centre which houses our community initiatives and the car park – are being sold by Lewisham Council to a property developer.
“This is in spite of Millwall submitting ambitious and viable development plans that would not only guarantee the future of our Community Scheme but also the long-term financial security of the club.”
He, and the 11,757 fans who had signed the petition at press time, urged the council to “put the people first.”
Barry Mizen, whose son Jimmy died when he was attacked the day after his sixteenth birthday in 2008, has also called for Lewisham Council to reconsider their stance.
He said: “At the moment many thousands of dedicated Millwall supporters are very concerned and anxious as to the future of a club that means so much to us. Can a way not be found that is unifying rather than dividing our community?”
Lewisham Council were contacted for a response but did not reply.