Friday, February 07, 2014

Is Millwall really under threat from sale of its car park?

There's been some huffing and puffing from Millwall FC in the last week following the decision of Lewisham Council to sell off some of the land it owns and which it currently leases to the football club. This includes the car park next to the stadium, the site currently used by the Millwall Community Scheme's Lions Centre and some land behind the stadium (I believe these are the areas marked 1,2,3 on map below).

Millwall Chairman John Berylson has claimed that 'the long term future of the club is being put at risk' and a 'Defend the Den' online petition has been started by 'fan on the board' Pete Garston. Meanwhile the Council has defended its position, stating that notwithstanding the land sale there is still a formal Planning Agreement in place for the area that includes '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'.

So what's really going on here? Well first of all this all about the larger Surrey Canal development that is planned for the area near to the Millwall ground. This is a big development which I have shied away from covering mainly because I haven't had the time to get my head round it. I'm glad therefore that the new 'The New Cross' site has summarised its main features, suggesting that it amounts to 'creating an entirely new area of London with shops, houses, health and sports facilities and a brand new East London Line station' on a largely brownfield site. The developer is 'Renewal New Bermondsey Two Ltd' - the official site is here.

From the developers site:
'1,200 person Church with offices, children's area, cafe, meeting rooms, rehearsal space and library'.
The Council is selling off the land to Renewal, clearing the way for them to develop the whole area. There is plenty to discuss about the scheme, not least the fact that as The New Cross points out: 'The development can house up to 2500 [in] housing of 1-4 bedrooms. Only 10% of these will be “socially rented” and 20% “affordable” (misleading term that does little to guarantee access). The developer says that a high proportion of socially-rented housing in the surroundings means it’s better to aim for a more “balanced” community on the site. I don’t know the financial figures here, but it seems a shame Lewisham missed out on the chance to get more council housing from such a huge brownfield site'. On best case 70% of homes are likely to be unaffordable to most people living locally, and as with similar schemes it is likely that many will be bought up as property investments by people who won't live there.

I think it's misleading though to present Millwall as a little community outfit threatened by rapacious property developers. I do think that as a football club, Millwall has a fairly good track record with the community. My children have taken part in their holiday football schemes, they give out tickets to local schools, and they supported the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital. And of course they are passionately supported by many people in the local community.

But Millwall Holdings PLC is a profit-seeking company - its chair John Berylson, is an American businessman.  Its subsidiary company Millwall Properties Limited is 'engaged in the preliminary assessment of the potential redevelopment and regeneration of the area surrounding the group's football stadium'. As a company, it has developed its own proposals for the land in dispute, including building a hotel and conference centre on the site of the car park. Millwall's own plans would also involve building on the current site of the Lions Centre and rebuilding it elsewhere.

From recent Millwall publication 'ambitious plans for a secure future' 

There may be some validity to Millwall's argument that as the football club loses money it needs non-football income to flourish. That is true of most clubs given the current economics of the game. But there is no threat to the stadium itself and it seems to me that  this dispute isn't about developers vs. the community but about the competing interests of rival  property developers. I'm not advocating selling off council land but selling the land to Millwall's owners (as they advocate) doesn't seem to be any different to selling it off to Renewal.

For Millwall fans a bigger long term issue might be the future of the New Den, not as a result of this land sale but because of the wider impact of the Surrey Canal development - whoever leads it. New affluent and vocal residents might not be so happy to have this unreconstructed bastion of working class culture on their doorstep, but Millwall have another 100 years or so to go on their lease so perhaps they would have to lump it. The fact that the land is owned by the Council (I believe) rather than the club might be an advantage, because it means that current or future club owners don't have the scope to asset strip by selling off the ground. But with the Surrey Canal redevelopment likely to increase the value of the land occupied by the New Den, there could still be a lucrative deal to be cut involving the club's owners being paid to give up the lease. Charlton fans successfully campaigned last year to have the Valley listed as an Asset of Community Value which would give it some short-term, limited protection from redevelopment, perhaps Millwall fans should do the same.

(lots of discussion about this at Millwall Online as you might expect, including speculation that longer term the club could move elsewhere, maybe even to Southwark Park on site of current semi-derelict running track. I think the latter is very unlikely - Southwark agreed funds last year to refurbish athletics facilities in Southwark Park and I understand that this will be going ahead, with a new athletics club operating there. Not all Millwall fans are fond of the current ground, but I think if they lose the New Den they might struggle to find somewhere else in London).

Meanwhile at Dulwich Hamlet... very interesting article at 200% about Dulwich Hamlet FC, which despite doing well on the pitch appears to be in a financially perilous position and at risk from property deals.


Ray Barron Woolford said...

Position of Lewisham People Before Profit, is that we oppose the sale of Our Community land to boost the profits of any company, in this Case Millwall. We want the land retained, More open community consultation and totally oppose the developers affordable housing percentage which in this case is just 5%. New Cross is a key target ward for People Before Profit in May's local Election with well known local candidates with years of service to local residents. In May voters can vote for Labour career politicians who for far to long have put the interests of the developers before Community or PB4P who will and have a proud record of putting, People, Community and Environment first. We only have to wait until May 22 to see what voters think.

Transpontine said...

Not sure my position is quite the same as yours. Your original position as set out in the petition seemed to be repeat the Millwall owners stance that the Council is putting them at risk. I'm not sure that this is true.

What Millwall plc want is for the Council to sell the land to them so that they can develop it, and there is nothing in their plans to suggest that they would be offering any more genuinely affordable housing or community facilities than Renewal.

I do think that the future of the club could be at risk longer term as I say in the post, but in my view the threat could be more from the club's owners/shareholders than from the Council. That's because of the way football clubs are run - they don't belong to fans or the community but to whoever has money to buy them, and those who buy them can also sell their assets if it suits them and they can get away with it.

If the Millwall owners were to get the land and redevelop it, who's to say it would be for the long term interests of football or the community? It could just be a stepping stone to selling the leasehold and moving the ground - which in my view could only be to outer London or out of London, as places like Bermondsey and Greenwich peninsula would be too expensive now.

carlagrace said...

Relocating the Lions Center operated by the Millwall Community Scheme to a new location within the regeneration area is an agreeable suggestion. I think they should accept it and relocate if they are being provided all the standard facilities they had there. gatwick chauffeur parking

Anonymous said...

No Millwall us my club why shoul we relocate #save the den come on you lions