Lewisham LBC is set to spend £500,000 on an independent inquiry into the actions of its elected mayor, councillors, and officers over a controversial redevelopment affecting Millwall Football Club’s ground.
Overview and scrutiny committee chair Alan Hall (Lab) has told chief executive Barry Quirk he fears officers “lied” to him when the council in 2014 pledged money to the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation (SCSF), a body associated with project developer Renewal.
Elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock (Lab) and neighbouring Southwark LBC leader Peter John (Lab) were SCSF directors but both resigned this month.
Sir Steve has also asked Mr Quirk to set up the inquiry, expected to be led by a nominee of the Bar Council.
The row concerns Renewal’s New Bermondsey project, which requires a compulsory purchase order from Lewisham that Millwall has said affects its New Den ground’s viability.
There is also a dispute over the accuracy of a bid to the Greater London Authority for housing zone funds for the development. A GLA report shows £20m allocated towards building 2,372 homes, of which 237 would be affordable.
Renewal was set up by former Lewisham officer Mushtaq Malik, who was once a director of SCSF. A Jordana Malik remains listed by Companies House as a director of this and various Renewal-related companies. She is Mr Malik’s daughter, according to a letter from Lewisham Conservatives sent to London mayor Sadiq Khan (Lab) about the New Bermondsey development project last month.
Sir Steve said he had joined the foundation as he believed sports facilities promised as part of the redevelopment would benefit Lewisham, but his involvement was “creating unnecessary confusion”.
He wrote to Mr Quirk on 20 January that an external inquiry should “establish whether any errors have occurred and whether anyone including me has acted in an inappropriate way”.
Cllr Hall also urged Mr Quirk to establish an inquiry. He said a scrutiny panel had “raised serious concerns” in 2014 about Lewisham pledging money to SCSF but these were “dismissed on advice from council officers”.
He added: “On the evidence so far it appears that the panel members were lied to. I hope that is not the case.
“Lewisham scrutiny councillors have raised the issue of governance and due diligence throughout the whole period of the council’s involvement with Renewal and I am greatly alarmed by this current situation.”
A report, which went before full council last night, by head of law Kath Nicholson said £500,000 would be needed for the inquiry.
She said the 2014 pledge of £500,000 to SCSF was based on a reported £2m being pledged by Sport England but the accuracy of both this and the housing zone bid were now in doubt.
Ms Nicholson said the allegations were “serious” and an independent inquiry “imperative”. She added: “Only in this way can the council inspire public confidence in the integrity of the process and its outcome.”
The inquiry will be asked to determine:
- whether the support claimed from Sport England was accurate; if not, whether the council was misled and by whom;
- whether Renewal’s statements about funding pledges were misleading;
- whether the housing zone bid was inaccurate or misleading;
- whether due diligence carried out by council officers on the compulsory purchase order was adequate;
- did members and officers behave properly?