BY TOBY PORTER
Millwall have welcomed a suggestion by Lewisham’s new mayor for round-table talks with a controversial developer over plans to build 2,400 homes around their ground.
Newly-elected Damien Egan wrote to Lions chief executive Steve Kavanagh and Renewal chief executive Mushtaq Malik in a bid to unblock the impasse over the 14-year bid to create New Bermondsey around The Den.
The letters were sent out on Friday and arrived on Tuesday, with both sides responding positively to the prospect of face-to-face negotiations over the scheme.
Mr Egan tweeted a picture of the two letters before sending them and added: “I will not support a development that doesn’t have the support of our community and I want to protect Millwall’s future in Lewisham. Now it’s time to get both sides talking.
“I have invited both Millwall FC and Renewal to a meeting with me to discuss the future of the club and the New Bermondsey site so we can move forward together. I am committed to finding a solution that works for the club so Millwall can stay in Lewisham, where they belong.”
Mr Kavanagh said: “Millwall Football Club will respond positively to any request by Lewisham council for a constructive meeting. However, there must be an agenda and a clear objective for the meeting and we need to be sure that Renewal have a genuinely open mind and a change of attitude. Without this, Renewal would merely be paying lip service as a means to ultimately acquiring the Millwall land via compulsory purchase order. Bear in mind that Renewal has already publicly said that it will not work with MFC and it will not undertake any development of the New Bermondsey site unless it is given ownership of the Millwall land.
“Damien Egan confirmed last year that he opposed the use of compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) as well as the sale of council owned land to a private property developer. He also stated that he wished to revisit the whole New Bermondsey scheme. We are waiting to see him put his words into action. For as long as the conditional land sale agreement remains in place by which the freeholds of the Millwall land are pledged by Lewisham council to Renewal, the CPO blight hangs over us like a sword of Damocles. Lewisham council can now terminate that agreement. We call upon them to do so. That would be an excellent demonstration of the new relationship that should exist between the local council and its football club.”
Renewal director Jordana Malik said: “Renewal welcomes the Mayor’s offer of a meeting with Millwall FC and himself to discuss the New Bermondsey scheme, and we will be confirming our attendance shortly.
“All three parties are in agreement that the regeneration should happen, and that Millwall FC should have its future secured as a thriving football club at the centre of New Bermondsey for many years to come.
“We look forward to establishing a positive dialogue with Millwall FC – with what we hope can be a new chapter – and to working with the council and the club to ensure that New Bermondsey, which will deliver significant benefits for the local community, Millwall FC and the Millwall Community Scheme, can become a reality for Lewisham.”
Lewisham under Mr Egan’s predecessor, Sir Steve Bullock, had planned to take possession of three plots of land around the stadium using a CPO – the car park, a memorial garden and the club’s indoor sports complex, the Lions Centre, which is home to Millwall’s highly successful academy.
But a row broke out when it emerged Mr Malik was a former Lewisham council manager and his firm was half-owned by a company registered in the Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands.
The three sites would then have been handed over to Renewal to develop tower blocks and a £40million leisure centre, Energise, in nearby Stockholm Road. But Mr Kavanagh revealed, within weeks of being appointed in November 2016, that any plan to move the club’s academy would lead to it being downgraded and losing most of its top-flight opponents – which could cripple its ability to recruit new young players.
A public inquiry was also called after documents revealed Renewal had been making claims over grants the developers of Energise would receive from Sport England.
But chairman Lord Dyson found no wrongdoing and concluded: “Renewal is the only party in a
position to be able to deliver the scheme.”