Millwall compulsory purchase order (CPO) scrapped as Lewisham mayor calls time on development plan
nicked from the Guardian:
The plan to evict Millwall from their land around The Den by compulsory purchase order (CPO) has been abandoned after months of fierce public pressure. In a statement Lewisham council’s elected mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, said that the CPO on Millwall’s land “should not proceed”, pulling the plug on the plan that could have threatened the club’s future existence in its historical south London home.
Residents threatened with eviction by the £1bn regeneration scheme will also be celebrating as a concerted campaign to expose the plans to detailed scrutiny has finally borne fruit.
Under the proposed scheme Lewisham council planned to seize Millwall’s land, evict the club’s prized community trust and sell the land on to an offshore-registered developer called Renewal. As first reported in the Guardian, Renewal was founded by two former Lewisham council officers, one of them the previous Labour mayor. The developers are ultimately owned and administered behind a veil of secrecy in the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man.
The CPO might have been passed last September but for the objections of the council’s own scrutiny committee, led tirelessly against huge internal pressure by the Labour councillor Alan Hall. The Association of Millwall Supporters group also campaigned relentlessly against the scheme, using social media with great skill and recruiting an impromptu investigation team to dig out the details.
Attempts to pass the CPO then ran aground again after the Guardian revealed the existence of a sales document appearing to suggest a part-owner of the developers had already been considering offering its interest for sale, a claim later dismissed by the council.
Finally, with the order due to be confirmed next month, the Guardian revealed that the charitable foundation at the heart of the scheme, of which Bullock is a director, had repeatedly made inaccurate claims about funding it said it had secured.
With the air turning toxic politically, previously supportive members of Lewisham’s Labour cabinet, most notably the housing member Damien Egan, began to execute a series of rapid U-turns. The end came with Bullock’s intervention on Wednesday as the mayor emerged to inflict the final blow to his own cabinet’s scheme, sparking celebrations for the club and its community for a triumph of collective action that was quickly dubbed VB Day, or victory in Bermondsey.
Willow Winston, a 72-year-old neighbour of Millwall, who was due to be evicted under the plans, has become something of a cause celebre and favourite aunt to the club’s fans during the CPO struggle. Winston was offered a paltry £58,000 for her flat by the developers, who then erected large signs in the area urging local residents to sell before they were evicted by the council.
“I am so happy this scheme has now been halted in light of these shocking recent revelations in the Guardian,” she said. “It makes a huge difference to me and to the whole community around here.
“ I’m happy for Millwall and for the community here who have had to live under this shadow for so long. I really hope we can all come together now. This kind of thing is happening in all kinds of places to so many people who feel powerless in the face of those who make these things happen.
“The finger must now be pointed at everyone involved in this wretched scheme. My neighbours and I have really suffered. I can’t really say anything about mayor Bullock and his friends. I am glad it is not me who will be judging them.”
More encouraging in the longer term, Lewisham council now appears to be holding an olive branch out to Millwall, who have been excluded from the development until now but are desperate to play a part in a regeneration scheme in their own community.
Millwall responded to the news with this statement: “Millwall football club welcomes the two announcements today from the mayor of Lewisham and his cabinet members that the CPO process should not proceed.
“Millwall FC has always supported the regeneration of this area and has offered to play its part. We make it clear that we remain ready to participate in a scheme in which we are, in the council’s words, at the heart of any proposed redevelopment and which will appropriately benefit the club, its community scheme and the people and businesses of Lewisham.”
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