By Mattha Busby @itsmattha
Following a divisive saga, Lewisham Council look set to approve the forced sale of people’s homes to an offshore developer with longstanding links to the council.
Unless there is a seachange, Lewisham council cabinet will rubber-stamp an internal report which re-confirms ”a compelling case” in the public interest for residents to sell their homes to developer Renewal – who have been buying up land around Millwall F.C.’s stadium, the New Den in South Bermondsey, for 12 years – in the face of internal and external opposition.
The internal opposition, which comprises at least 22 of Lewisham’s 54 councillors, has been led by Overview and Scrutiny Committee chair Alan Hall who described how Renewal’s original planning application fell apart in slow motion over the past five years.
“Renewal was going to pay for the new station at Surrey Canal Road – the taxpayer is now funding that; there was a multi-faith centre planned for Lewisham’s diverse communities – that is now a cathedral-sized church for Christian evangelists from Australia,” said Hall. “[Furthermore], the ever-shrinking proposed ‘sporting village’ will drive away one of football’s most famous clubs and it’s highly successful community scheme providing opportunities for Lewisham’s young people.”
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee held up the Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) over concerns regarding deliverability – since Renewal have never attempted a project of this size, the reputational risk to the council, the fundamental absence of any social housing in Renewal’s plans – Lewisham Council target 50 per cent affordable housing on new builds, and the non domiciled tax status of the developers’ two owners, who are based in the Isle of Man and the British Virgin Isles.
The £1 billion, 30 acre development scheme, part funded with public money under the London Mayor’s Housing Zone programme to promote urban renewal, will create 2,400 homes, a 3000 seat multipurpose arena, a home for the London Amateur Boxing Association and a new London Overground station.
Given that only 10 per cent of the homes will be affordable (that is 80 per cent of market value) and that the local football team are being forced to consider relocating as they will be obliged to sell pockets of land around their ground, it is difficult to see how local people will benefit from their community being bulldozed and replaced with unaffordable flats during a housing crisis.
Walking around South Bermondsey, it is almost impossible to find someone in favour of the scheme. While most recognise that the area is in need of regeneration, the manner in which it is being done has provoked widespread anger.
Richard Pickering, owner of the Millwall Cafe that faces CPO, railed against alleged cronyism: “The only beneficiaries of this decision are those in Renewal who appear to include a significant number of ex-Council officials.”
Lewisham Council have historic links to Renewal. Former Mayor of Lewisham David Sullivan founded Renewal in 2002 (shortly after his resignation as Mayor). He later sold his 26 per cent of shares to Independent Advisors Incorporated (IAI) in 2006, embarking on an impressive consultancy career after resigning from his Renewal directorship in August 2007. Between 2012 and 2013 he held seven separate directorships in South East London.
Mushtaq Malik, whose family control IAI, was a former senior Lewisham housing officer until 1995 – during Sullivan’s time as councillor, and is now chief executive of Renewal.
The business relationship between Malik and Sullivan did not begin there. They helped set up DirecTeam to whom the council outsourced Lewisham public sector work during the 1990’s. A similar Direct Service Organisation, ServiceTeam, of whom they were Director and Chief Executive respectively, had a contract in Lambeth which ended prematurely in fractious circumstances amid 26,000 complaints about the quality of service which culminated in a strike. Sullivan was forced to resign this directorship when the Lewisham Labour Party realised that his chairmanship of the council’s personnel committee represented a conflict of interest.
The current mayor Sir Stephen Bullock, Sullivan’s successor, is on the board of the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation, the charity set up by Renewal to manage the area’s transition to a sporting village. As a result, he is unable to vote on anything regarding Renewal due to the intriguing conflict of interest.
The favourable stance towards Renewal taken by officials comes despite the misgivings of council committees and the emergence of a sales brochure advertising ownership of part of the development – said to have been prepared without the knowledge of the companies directly responsible.
The document produced by city estate agent Lambert Smith Hampton also made the explicit assertion that a CPO had been granted despite the fact it was produced around May, before the CPO’s brief existence.
Prior to the short-lived CPO in September, Renewal erected 2mx1m signs warning: “Remaining landowners that it will be in your interest to avoid the impending compulsory purchase order.” Which presumably translates to doing business with them and to sell up before terms would be imposed upon them under a compulsory purchase.
The CPO’s apparent inevitability does little to dispel the local ill feeling, nor do the offers made on the homes and businesses that have held out till now.
“We consider the offer [for the Millwall Cafe] derisory,” said Pickering. “By the time we’ve paid off the bank loan, staff redundancies and the initial costs, it won’t leave enough to buy a similar business.”
Winston Willow, a local artist, claimed she was offered £58,000 for her home by the developers, which she says is a 10th of its value.
Sadiq Khan has failed to intervene in the case despite running a campaign based on housing and financial transparency.
The local Labour Party has reiterated that “All members of Lewisham Labour Group, be they executive or non-executive members, work and apply themselves in their public service in the best interest of Lewisham.”