An independent inquiry has found no wrongdoing by Lewisham LBC’s elected mayor, councillors or officers over a controversial redevelopment affecting Millwall FC’s ground.
Former master of the rolls Lord Dyson was commissioned to examine the council’s role in the proposed scheme after questions were raised over Lewisham’s decision to issue a compulsory purchase order for land close to the club’s stadium in Bermondsey.
The proposal would involve the land being sold to developer Renewal, a firm set up by former Lewisham officer Mushtaq Malik and former council leader Dave Sullivan (Lab), who worked together in the mid-1990s at public services contractor Serviceteam.
Millwall FC claimed the proposal would impact on the viability of the ground and could force the club out of the borough.
Questions were raised about the credibility of the CPO process, with critics claiming that an “in principle” decision by the mayor and cabinet to issue the CPO was made for the benefit of Renewal and would deter any other developer from submitting a proposal.
Lord Dyson concluded that “there was no impropriety, lack of due diligence or breach of code of practice on the part of any council officer or member” in relation to the CPO decision, the appraisal of the scheme’s viability and Renewal’s ability to deliver it.
Questions were also raised about a decision in 2014 by Lewisham to make a pledge of £500,000 to the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation (SCSF), of which Mr Malik was once a director and Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock (Lab) was a board member.
SCSF was established by Renewal to provide a new £40m indoor sports facility as part of the development.
Renewal applied to Sport England for a contribution to the costs of the facility. Renewal claimed that Sport England had made a pledge to provide £2m and, in the belief this was the case, Mr Bullock and his cabinet decided to pledge £500,000 towards the project.
It emerged that Sport England had in fact made an “in principle” decision to contribute funding and later objected to Renewal’s claim of a “pledge”.
However, Lord Dyson concluded: “I do not, however, think that it was unreasonable or deliberately misleading for Renewal and the SCSF to have described the “in principle” allocation of funding as a pledge.”
He also concluded that there is no evidence that the council acted improperly or without due diligence in taking the decision to pledge £500,000 to the SCSF
But he said it was an “unfortunate oversight ” that Renewal had not passed Sport England’s concerns to the council.