New Bermondsey – My take

I’m very pleased and very relieved that Lewisham Council has decided not to proceed with the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) as part of the New Bermondsey development in my ward.

I was the only member of Lewisham cabinet to vote against the CPO in September. It was not the right thing to do, we should never have got into that situation, and I’m glad it’s now been abandoned.

There are some very important conditions that have to be met in order to carry out a CPO. First, you have to be confident that reasonable endeavours had been made to reach a voluntary agreement; the CPO must be a last resort. But I do not think Renewal did enough to reach a voluntary agreement with Millwall and the other landowners. In truth, I think that’s because Renewal didn’t feel under sufficient pressure to come to a voluntary agreement. This was shown by the posters they put up outside people’s properties, saying sell up or face a CPO. They should never have done this, and it was never in their power to threaten.

Second, we had to have confidence that the Renewal scheme would be deliverable. I had severe doubts here. Renewal are a small and relatively inexperienced developer, who had never attempted anything near this scale. The fact they are owned by trusts based offshore only added to this lack of certainty, and to my deep concerns over the whole scheme.

Finally, and most importantly, there has to be a compelling case in the public interest for the CPO. The sports centre and the train station would be great for the local community. But for me, the absolute priority for our area is more affordable and council housing. The New Bermondsey development offered just 12% affordable housing, only a quarter of which was affordable rent, and no social housing. That is just not good enough.

In addition to this, the CPO would have forcibly taken land from Millwall Football Club and the Millwall Community Scheme. Both are vital for our local community. Both were implacably opposed to the CPO. As a football fan (Palace, sorry!), I know how important clubs are to their fans and to the local community. Millwall Community Scheme do great work with hundreds of young people in our local community. Millwall Football Club do great work too, not least with their support for our campaign to Save Lewisham Hospital. I would never want to do anything that would jeopardise their future in our borough and the ward I represent.

The last few months have been tough. I’ve not been on the same side as most of my colleagues in cabinet. But I have continued to argue my case. Although my fellow cabinet members didn’t vote the same way as I did, I respect their decisions. We all made the decision based on what we thought was best for Lewisham. None of us would have benefitted personally from the development, and suggestions of ‘brown envelopes’ are a load of crap. The only brown envelopes I get are stuffed full of council documents to read!

I want to thank the many hundreds of people who got in touch with us on this over the last few months. The vast majority of emails I received put the case politely, persuasively and passionately. I read every one, and replied to as many as I could. I also want to thank the local MPs, Vicky Foxcroft and Neil Coyle, and my fellow Councillor Brenda Dacres who engaged constructively throughout, and put their case calmly and convincingly.

This is not the end of the process. This is just the start. We urgently need more affordable and social housing locally. The New Bermondsey site has great potential to provide thousands of the homes that we need. The council, Renewal, the club, and the local community all want to see more homes built here. But they need to be affordable to local residents. And this needs to be done in through dialogue and partnership, not through forcing through a CPO.

I will be seeking to meet with Council Officers, with Millwall and MCS, and also with Renewal, to discuss how we move forward together.

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