Lewisham LBC’s elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock has denied accusations of bias over a huge redevelopment scheme proposed by a company associated with former council figures.
Sir Steve (Lab) rebutted media claims that he was in “unwavering support” of a mooted compulsory purchase order (CPO) needed for the New Bermondsey scheme with 2,400 homes.
A neighbouring council leader has now reisgend from the board of a company associated with the scheme’s developers, on which Sir Steve also sits.
Millwall Football Club has said the project would affect its nearby site and could force it out of borough, sparking a campaign against it by fans.
Developer Renewal was set up by former Lewisham officer Mushtaq Malik and Sir Steve’s predecessor as leader Dave Sullivan (Lab), who worked together in the mid-1990s in public services contractor Service team.
A December email from Mr Malik, published by the council, states Renewal is now jointly owned by a trust established by his parents, and a charitable trust that principally benefits the Jack Petchey Foundation, which supports youth projects.
The email said Mr Malik was the only present or former Lewisham councillor or officer now involved with Renewal and Mr Sullivan ceased to be a director and shareholder in 2007.
These links have though caused local controversy among opponents of the project, who have also raised questions about the associated Surrey Canal Sports Foundation (SCSF), of which Mr Malik was once a director.
Sir Steve sits on SCSF’s board alongside former Conservative London mayoral candidate Steve Norris.
The New Bermondsey site is near Lewisham’s boundary with Southwark LBC, whose leader Peter John (Lab) has now resigned from SCSF’s board after five years.
Cllr John said: “It has always been my understanding that the regeneration proposals for the site did not require a choice to be made between Millwall FC continuing to have its home at the New Den and the delivery of the New Bermondsey project. The value of Millwall’s contribution to Southwark - particularly through its community outreach work - is well known and highly valued.
“There is an independent inquiry ongoing in Lewisham and I don’t want to pre-empt the findings of that but I do find it regrettable that within the current debate about the CPO that the vision, ambition and integrity of those involved have been questioned.”
He said he resigned “with regret” and hoped Lewisham would eventually bring new homes and opportunities to the area “at some point in the future with the support of Millwall FC”.
Sir Steve said: “I have not made any public comment in regard to the proposed CPO because of my involvement with the SCSF. However it has been reported in the media yesterday that I am ‘Unwavering in my support for the CPO’, i.e. the proposed CPO which would affect Millwall FC and other property owners in the area. This is not correct.”
The statement said Sir Steve was an SCSF trustee “because I want to see excellent sports and youth facilities provided in the New Bermondsey area as well as new housing”.
He said the scheme’s 2011 planning permission came from a council committee independent of the mayoralty but the CPO itself was a matter for the mayor and cabinet.
“For the reasons stated above I have played no part in those discussions,” Sir Steve said.
Information from Millwall in recent weeks had “raised two concerns that appear not to have been addressed previously…I have always been clear that Millwall must be at the heart of the development and it is my view that these concerns need to be thoroughly addressed the CPO should not proceed and that all parties concerned should enter discussions to identify an agreed way to achieve the regeneration of this area while resolving these concerns.”
Sir Steve has asked Lewisham’s chief executive Barry Quirk to establish an independent inquiry into “other issues of concern [that] have been raised in relation to the operation of the SCSF”.