Southwark Council leader Peter John has resigned from the charity at the heart of a development which planned to compulsory purchase land used by Millwall Football Club.
Cllr John today (Thursday) announced that he was leaving his position as a trustee for the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation to focus on his work for the council.
“Shortly after I became leader of Southwark Council in 2010 I was briefed on Renewal’s proposals for the New Bermondsey project in Lewisham and invited to join the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation board which was being created,” he said in a statement.
“The presence of Millwall FC and sport was an integral part of the project and provided an exciting ambition to create a world-class sporting village for South East London with national centres for a number of sports.
“It has always been my understanding that the regeneration proposals for the site did not require a choice to be made between Millwall FC continuing to have its home at the New Den and the delivery of the New Bermondsey project.
“The value of Millwall’s contribution to Southwark – particularly through its community outreach work – is well known and highly valued.
“There is an independent inquiry ongoing in Lewisham and I don’t want to pre-empt the findings of that but I do find it regrettable that within the current debate about the CPO the vision, ambition and integrity of those involved have been questioned.
“As Leader of Southwark Council I must give priority to the many issues and challenges which my borough faces and to the other duties I have elsewhere within London government.
“With this in mind I have had to question whether my time is well spent responding to the many queries and challenges arising from my membership of the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation board.
“Therefore, and with genuine regret, I have reached the conclusion that I should withdraw from membership of the board. I still hope that the ambition and vision that Lewisham Council has to bring new homes and opportunities to this important part of South London can be delivered at some point in the future with the support of Millwall FC.
“I look forward to working with colleagues in Lewisham to continue improving the lives of the residents who live in this exciting part of London.”
He also announced his resignation on Twitter.
“Whilst I believe in integrity & vision of @SurreyCanalSF I have decided to resign as a trustee to concentrate on
@lb_southwark issues,” he said in a tweet.
Lewisham Council’s decision to compulsory purchase land surrounding Millwall Football Club was finally called off last Wednesday after months of protest from fans, businesses and some politicians.
Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock released a statement saying that the CPO of land used by Millwall for its community trust, youth academy, car park and café “should not proceed”.
— Peter John (@peterjohn6) 2 February 2017
Sir Bullock, along with Cllr Alan Hall, Lewisham’s chair of overview and scrutiny, called for an external independent inquiry into Surrey Canal Sports Foundation (SCSF) – the charity at the heart of developer Renewal’s New Bermondsey scheme and of which the Mayor is a director – after allegations of £2million worth of false funding claims emerged.
“Information has been provided by Millwall to the council in the last few weeks that raised two concerns that appear not to have been addressed previously in regard to aspects of the future operation of the community sports scheme and the operation of Millwall’s own academy,” Sir Bullock said in a statement at the time.
“I have always been clear that Millwall must be at the heart of the development and it is my view that these concerns need to be thoroughly addressed, the CPO should not proceed and that all parties concerned should enter discussions to identify an agreed way to achieve the regeneration of this area while resolving these concerns.
“Other issues of concern have been raised in relation to the operation of the SCSF and as soon as these concerns were raised I wrote to the council’s chief executive [Barry Quirk] asking that an independent inquiry take place into them and I cannot comment further until the inquiry reports.”
It also came to light that 45 of Lewisham’s 54 Labour councillors backed calls made by Cllr Hall for the independent inquiry – and the council’s cabinet member for housing Damien Egan also withdrew his support.
Details of Lewisham’s external inquiry are yet to be confirmed and the council has not appointed someone to head up the independent inquiry – but the inquiry will definitely go ahead, the News understands.
Lewisham Deptford Conservatives chair Ross Archer has called for the Department for Communities and Local Government to head up the inquiry to ensure it can be “fully trusted”.
“For this inquiry to be fully trusted by the club, the fans and the local community then the council can have no part in choosing who leads it,” he said in a letter to Lewisham’s Mayor and cabinet.
“I strongly believe that you should request the Department for Communities and Local Government to head up this inquiry and for them to appoint their own inspectors.
Quite frankly the allegations over the council’s handling of this matter are too serious for the council to be allowed to mark its own homework.”