Former Master of the Rolls and Supreme Court judge will carry out an independent inquiry into the bid to grab land from Millwall.
The Right Honorable Lord John Dyson will probe the issue of Lewisham council’s proposed compulsory purchase order (CPO) of land at New Bermondsey.
The decision to have a review was made by town hall chiefs on February 22, who said it should be led by someone independent of all parties involved.
Three pockets of land around Millwall’s ground, The Den, were due to be seized by the council, using a CPO, to get the regeneration started. But the club has bitterly opposed the scheme because it has wanted to develop the land itself – since the project was launched in 2005.
The borough’s cabinet has stated the review should have the integrity and authority to carry out the review in the rigorous, open-minded and unbiased manner that the public would expect. Lewisham’s ruling cabinet asked the Chairman of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC, to appoint a skilled and independent person.
The independent inquiry will begin in April 2017 with a view to reporting before the end of the calendar year. The report will be made public.
The scope of the inquiry was agreed by a meeting of Lewisham’s full council on February 22 – to cover the finances of the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation (SCSF). The charity was due to run a part of the development, a £40million sports complex called Energise, which was to house the football club’s respected academy and the Millwall Community Scheme.
Lewisham mayor Sir Steve Bullock quit his post as a director and trustee of SCSF after the inquiry was announced.
Millwall have already said the terms of the probe are too narrow and should be widened to include why the club was told it could not buy the land, which was then sold to developers Renewal months later.
Millwall have listed eight areas they want the probe to cover:
* Why did the council decide to partner exclusively with Renewal in 2013?
* Why were no alternative bids sought for that land?
* Why is the council so desperate not to disclose the price it has agreed for that land that it is prepared to go to court to try and keep the details secret?
* Why are important elements of the [due diligence] report prepared by [accountants] PwC on Renewal also being kept under wraps and defended in court? Is the council paying some or all of those legal costs?
* Why have the council and Renewal persistently ignored the threat to the future of the Millwall Community Trust in their pursuit of the Lions Centre?
* What is the nature of the relationship between the council and Renewal that the council continues to work in exclusivity with Renewal on the New Bermondsey scheme even after Renewal has publicly declared that it will not work with Millwall Football Club?
- How can the council state that Millwall will be at the heart of the new community while deciding to work in partnership with Renewal against the interests of the football club?
- How did the council put itself in a position whereby it appeared to be forced to use compulsory purchase orders to acquire nearly half of the development site for Renewal?
A spokesman for the council stressed any regeneration of New Bermondsey/Surrey Canal will require a completely new and fresh decision to seize land around Millwall’s ground, The Den.
Brenda Dacres, former chairman of the Labour group on Lewisham council, who represents New Cross ward, said: “I welcome the appointment by the Chairman of the Bar Council, of The Right Honorable Lord John Dyson to carry out the New Bermondsey/Surrey Canal Independent Inquiry.
“Lord John Dyson is the former Master of the Rolls and Supreme Court judge, and extremely experienced. To have someone of this calibre and experience leading the independent inquiry is very essential, and I look forward to its commencement.”
Prospective Conservative Lewisham Mayoral Candidate Ross Archer said: “While this review is welcome, residents need assurances that no stone will be left unturned. It must investigate all potential connections between the political leadership at the council and Renewal and their linked organisations. For this inquiry to address the very serious allegations against the council, it is vital that the Mayor and chief executive of the council temporarily step aside while the investigation takes place to ensure that integrity of this inquiry is not weakened.”
Lord Dyson was Master of the Rolls (President of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and Head of Civil Justice) for four years until he retired in October 2016. He was a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from April 2010 until October 2012. He was a Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales from 2001 until 2010 (and Deputy Head of Civil Justice from 2003 until 2006). He was a judge of the High Court of England and Wales from 1993 until 2001 and the judge in charge of the Technology and Construction Court from 1998 until 2001. He was also a Recorder from 1986 until 1993.
Lord Dyson was appointed QC in 1982 and in 1986 became head of 39 Essex Chambers, a position he held until 1993 when he was appointed to the High Court.
He is a visiting professor at University College, London and Queen Mary, London. He has honorary doctorates from University College, London and the Universities of Leeds and Essex.
In 2014, he was awarded an Honorary Degree of LLD by Leeds University, in his home town.