With Millwall Football Club (MFC) being notified by Lewisham Council of the sale of the freehold to developers Renewal Ltd of three areas of land surrounding The Den and used by the club, their Chairman, John Berylson stated that he was “appalled and bewildered” that the long-term future of the Club is being put at risk by Lewisham Council.
These areas include the car park, a space behind the stadium, for which MFC has a long lease but the Millwall Community Scheme Trust, supported and sponsored by the Club to do work in the community, has a shorter lease on the site of the Lions Centre.
The Millwall Community Scheme Trust which is well-known for helping thousands of local people in both Lewisham and Southwark. And its Lions Centre is not only home to several sports groups but also houses vital programmes helping social inclusion in what is one of the most diverse and deprived areas of London.
In his statement released yesterday, Mr Berylson said:
“I am appalled and bewildered by the behaviour of the Council towards Millwall Football Club, our fans and our Community Scheme.
“Millwall has always been a club rooted in its community. It launched and supported the Millwall Community Scheme Trust almost 30 years ago which has helped thousands of young people over the years and the Club was proud to be at the forefront of the Save Lewisham A&E campaign.
“Lewisham Council’s decision to sell the freehold of these three areas of land adjoining our stadium – including the Lions Centre and our car park – to property developers without considering our own plans makes us feel isolated, unsupported by our local authority and angry.
“If these land sales go through, they will put the long-term future of the Club at risk because it will mean non-football assets that we hold in our leases will be surrendered to a property developer. We have the long-term interests of the Club and the community in mind. Renewal does not. Lewisham Council must be urged to think again.”
In a later statement he added:
“I have made our position clear to Lewisham Council and I am hopeful that we can have positive dialogue with them going forward so that our interests and that of the Community Trust will be recognised and protected.
I am determined that Millwall will continue to have a very bright future and will be playing football at The Den for many generations to come.”
“We have been shocked and disappointed to find out that, despite our protests, Lewisham Council has taken steps to sell two parcels of land adjoining The Den which are currently leased to the Club. The Council is also intending to sell the Lions Centre which is occupied by the Millwall Community Scheme.
These three areas are to be sold to Renewal Limited, a private developer, as part of the Surrey Canal Triangle regeneration – despite Millwall’s continual and firm expressions of interest to acquire and develop the land adjoining its stadium.
We are fans of the scheme to regenerate the Surrey Canal Triangle and we want to play our part in it.
We also recognise the significant commercial opportunities that could transform a Club that loses money each year.
Our long-term survival will depend on our ability to generate non-football revenues to help us through the inevitable ups and downs of life as a professional football club.
Despite football being core to the Council’s stated strategy for the Borough, Millwall Football Club has been repeatedly excluded from the regeneration project.
Early in 2013, Millwall engaged a top architect to develop a scheme to maintain the land required for the safe operation of the Club and to provide the opportunity for the generation of non-football income.
Our scheme is consistent with the overall plans for the development of the Surrey Canal Triangle. The Club’s development plans were presented to the Council last August but they declined to consider them.
Neither would the Council tell us what commercial terms they required for the purchase of the three areas of land that are for sale.”
In their response released on their website:
The Council states, it has been in discussion with Millwall FC for a number of years about plans for the development of a sporting village on the Surrey Canal site.
Further pointing out that, on 30 March 2012, “as part of the social and environment benefits the scheme will bring to the area, a Planning Agreement was entered into between the Council and Renewal Ltd, Transport for London, Millwall Football Club and others which would provide a number of key benefits including safeguarding the existing Millwall Stadium, undertaking improvements to the north, west and south facades of the Millwall FC stadium and relocating the Lions Centre operated by the Millwall Community Scheme to a new location within the regeneration area.”
The intensive plan for the regeneration of the site includes:
- up to 2,400 new homes
- an improved setting for The Den
- a new Overground station at Surrey Canal (including the construction of a new 1.3km section of railway which passes alongside Bridge House Meadows and in between SELCHP and the Millwall FC stadium)
- a multi-purpose arena and indoor sports centre for basketball, badminton, boxing, cricket, climbing, football, hockey, gymnastics, netball, swimming and table tennis as well as a new home for the Millwall Community Scheme
- a new church with community facilities including a shared multifaith and multicultural library, classrooms, meeting rooms, exhibition space, crèche and café
- film city and digital hub – creation of a landmark virtual production hub that will act as a focus for creative industries both within London and from around the world – building on the reputation Lewisham already has as home to 650 digital businesses.
The Council anticipates that the regeneration programme would create about 450 temporary construction jobs as well as 1,500 permanent new jobs in the leisure, business, retail and community sectors.
A Lewisham Council spokesperson also added:
“The land leased to Millwall FC and the Millwall Community Scheme is owned by Lewisham Council and we have been in discussion with them for many years. We have undertaken to safeguard their futures on many occasions and we continue to meet and discuss issues of concern with them.
“We remain absolutely committed to ensuring that the comprehensive regeneration of the Surrey Canal site takes into account the long-term future of the football club including any future requirement for stadium improvement and expansion as well as transport infrastructure. We have also undertaken to ensure that the Millwall Community Scheme will remain close to the Club and continue to be able to serve the communities of Lewisham as well as Southwark.
“The scheme will mean a greatly improved setting for the Club and will breathe new life and vitality into this part of central London.”
But Berylson and many Millwall supporters do not believe that Lewisham and ReNewal’s plans would:
- Ensure MFC’s long term future at The Den at the heart of the community.
- Guarantee non-football revenues to help see MFC through the inevitable ups and downs of a professional football club.
- Be giving them the opportunity to participate in the regeneration scheme by allowing the club to develop appropriately the land immediately surrounding the stadium.
- Give the flourishing community scheme, a new improved premises so that the Club can continue to support it.
The Club has written to local politicians and community leaders and has produced its own leaflet explaining its plans and asking for the community’s support.
So far, the Member of Parliament for Bermondsey & Old Southwark and long time Millwall supporter, Simon Hughes has pledge his support, even tweeting “Working w Millwall 2 try & guarantee future 4 club @ New Den. Had meet w Lewisham Council officers 2day. Will give 100% 2 support our Lions.”
Also standing in the Millwall corner is South Bermondsey Ward Councillor Michael Bukola, who is also the Liberal Democrats Parliamentary Candidate for Lewisham Deptford where the Den is situated.
They have also written to Lewisham Council spelling out its compelling case and requesting the similar support for Millwall that the club exhibited when the Borough joined in the campaign to save Lewisham A&E.
As the Lions donated and raised thousands of pounds to help fund the successful judicial review which saved the hospital, as well as showing their support by wearing ‘Save Lewisham A&E’ shirts before matches.