Lewisham council’s plan to compulsorily purchase Millwall FC’s land around The Den and sell it to mystery offshore-owned developers took a further unlikely twist in courtroom five of the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
The council, represented by a QC and instructing solicitors, successfully argued behind closed doors that the hearing should be postponed until January. The reason for the delay is the unavailability of one of the directors of the developers, Renewal, who would have given evidence.
The hearing relates to a freedom of information request for an unredacted copy of a 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers due diligence report. This report was the basis for Lewisham’s decision to give Renewal first, and only, rights on what has become a £1bn regeneration of the area around The Den, backed by public money from the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and accelerated planning powers.
The delay will draw further exasperation among supporters of Millwall’s case, not least at the cost to Lewisham taxpayers of retaining a leading public law QC simply in order to conceal information about the identity of a private offshore property developer. Lewisham is facing £85m budget cuts that will bring “severe suffering” to vulnerable families, according to its own cabinet. Against this the cost of retaining Anya Proops QC, Lewisham’s chosen silk, could be anything up to £1,000 an hour, even without a supporting legal team.
Mickey Simpson of the Millwall AMS supporters’ group said: “It’s outrageous that public money is being spent on this when it could be sorted out by cooperation with the club. Everyone just needs to get round the table together. We are fed up with secrecy. We all know the regeneration has to happen but this is a crazy way for Lewisham council to go about it.”
Eyebrows will also be raised at Renewal’s inability to proceed with a court hearing because of the unavailability of one director. Renewal intends to manage a huge urban regeneration project. The company has repeatedly denied it intends to “cut and run”, selling its interest for a quick profit as soon as the CPO of parts of The Den is complete.
However, Lewisham council has already been forced to cancel its own scrutiny meeting after the emergence in the Guardian of a document that appears to suggest one of Renewal’s parent companies has looked into selling its interest. Two months later the council is still “investigating the veracity” of this document.
The delay will add to the concerns of football supporters and residents and create further unrest among backbench Labour councillors, who have passed a motion condemning the CPO. Millwall are still keen to advance their own scheme for developing the area, which would contain more affordable housing and safeguard the future of Bermondsey’s outstanding community asset.
The identity of the owners of Lewisham’s chosen developers is still unknown; as is the full extent of the family-owned company’s ability to carry out the development of Millwall’s land and surrounding areas.
The Guardian has revealed that one of Renewal’s founding directors was Dave Sullivan, the previous Labour mayor. Renewal’s current chief executive, Mushtaq Malik, is also a former senior Lewisham officer, who has worked with Lewisham’s current chief executive, Barry Quirk, best known locally for earning more pro-rata than the prime minister in return for a three-day week at the council.
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