Ams Letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

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The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham St,
London SW1P 4DF
February 26th 2017

Dear Sir,

The Lewisham CPO Inquiry

We write to you in your capacity as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, requesting your intervention in the recently announced Lewisham Council inquiry into the cancelled Compulsory Purchase Orders at the ‘New Bermondsey’ scheme in London SE16.

As you may be aware, the stadium lands surrounding Millwall FC’s Zampa Road ground were recently the subject of an attempted CPO by Lewisham Council, acting in partnership with ‘Renewal’ – the developer behind the proposed New Bermondsey regeneration scheme.

Renewal are a little known company set up by a former Lewisham mayor and an ex council officer. The ultimate ownership is unclear and is masked by both Isle of Man and British Virgin Island registration. Furthermore the company has no track record of regeneration on this scale; and there is no clear reason why it received the preferred status that Lewisham has granted it.

Following the announcement by Millwall FC in January 2017 that the enforced sale of its leased stadium lands to Renewal would place its highly respected community scheme, its football academy status and indeed its very presence in the Borough of Lewisham in jeopardy, a vociferous social media took place opposing Lewisham’s stance.

During the course of that protest, information emerged in The Guardian newspaper that false claims of funding by Sport England had been made by the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation. This being a charity created by Renewal to manage the proposed sports facility at the heart of the regeneration scheme. Indeed they appear to have disregarded a specific cease and desist request by Sport England in 2014. We understand the Charity Commission are currently looking into the actions of the SCSF, upon which Mayor Bullock sat as a trustee director until very recently.

To compound matters, these false funding and other partnership claims were repeatedly used by Lewisham Council in support of a successful £20m Greater London Authority Housing Zone application in 2015.

Thankfully the social media campaign and consequent bad publicity forced Lewisham to cancel the CPO process and announce an externally led investigation into the matter. This to include possible breaches of council employment and members codes.

Our concern however is that the terms of the inquiry have been framed by Lewisham in order to minimize further damage to its reputation, rather than seek the truth of this scandal.

Most worryingly, not only the directly elected Mayor Steve Bullock, but also the Deputy Mayor Alan Smith and the Chief Executive Barry Quirk will be remaining in post during the investigation. This despite each being active witnesses to any robust investigation.

There are many other areas of concern, not least the lack of diligence, the overriding of Lewisham’s own Scrutiny and Overview Committee’s criticisms and the previously mentioned historic links between the council and Renewal. Linkages that extend further back than the arbitrary start date of 2011 defined within Lewisham’s announced terns of reference.

We are asking for DCLG intervention, using any available powers, to ensure this scandal is properly and fully investigated.

As a minimum, Bullock, Smith and Quirk should not be allowed to remain in post during the course of any inquiry. Each will be witnesses and possible defendants to a false claim for public grant of £20m. A grant which, if if it had been successful, would have facilitated the construction of a scheme estimated to value some £2bn on completion.

Natural justice and conventional rules of investigation cannot take place with these three very senior figures still in place at Lewisham Town Hall.

We ask that each be suspended until exonerated – or otherwise – by the proposed investigation.

We also ask for the terns of investigation at Lewisham be widened to cover the wider areas mentioned in this letter.

Thank you for any assistance or intervention that you can offer.
Yours sincerely
Nick Hart – AMS Spokesman