Regulator unconcerned about conflicts of interest at development near Millwall FC

The Charity Commission began a probe into the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation after receiving complaints from a member of the public

Millwall FC's New Den
Millwall FC's New Den

The Charity Commission has said it has no concerns about alleged conflicts of interest at the sports charity at the heart of a controversial £1bn development near Millwall Football Club’s stadium in south-east London.

The Surrey Canal Sports Foundation plans to build and run a sports centre, Energize, as part of the New Bermondsey regeneration scheme, which will also result in 2,400 new homes being built near Millwall’s stadium in Lewisham.

The commission opened a case on the charity in January after receiving a complaint from a member of the public that there were conflicts of interest in the charity’s decision-making and links between the charity, a developer and local officials, that it was a vehicle for money laundering, that it had a low income but high expenditure and that it had failed to achieve its stated aims.

The commission was also concerned by media reports that the charity claimed it had received a £2m funding pledge from Sports England, something the funder denied.

The developer Renewal, which set up the charity in 2011, has been purchasing land around the site since 2004, and in September 2016 Lewisham Council decided a compulsory purchase order should be made to secure the rest of the land needed for the development.

But the compulsory purchase order was scrapped shortly after the commission opened its case and Sir Steve Bullock, the Mayor of Lewisham, and Peter John, the leader of neighbouring borough council Southwark, who were both on the board of the charity resigned as trustees after negative media reports and a local outcry.

Lewisham Council has faced criticism about the development from local residents and politicians, including the former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, and has been warned that the proposed development could force Millwall FC to leave the area.

In its report on the case, published today, the commission says it "found no evidence of money laundering or tax avoidance" and the charity’s accounts were compliant with charity accounting standards.

It says the regulator did not identify any concerns with the way the charity was managing conflicts of interest.

The charity told the commission it had not said it had been guaranteed the Sports England funding, but it had been told it would be eligible for support if it met a number of conditions, the report says.

"The commission received differing accounts as to the nature of the financial support from Sport England and the charity," the it adds.

"However, it accepts that the charity’s statements about Sport England’s support were made in good faith and did not have the intention to mislead."

On concerns about the charity’s funding, which is entirely reliant on an interest-free loan from Renewal until the development is in place, the commission’s report says: "The trustees are aware of the charity’s reliance on the development going ahead to realise the charity’s plans. They stated that they are confident that the planned development would go ahead in some form."

But the report does not explain what will happen now that the compulsory purchase order has been scrapped.

The report concludes: "We considered that the charity had addressed our regulatory concerns and demonstrated that it was acting independently. We had no ongoing concerns about the funding of the charity."

A spokeswoman for the charity said it had cooperated fully and willingly with the Charity Commission.

"The SCSF welcomes the conclusions of the Charity Commission and looks forward to continuing its mission to encourage local communities across Lewisham and Southwark to take part in sports, and remains fully committed to seeing through the delivery of Energize at New Bermondsey," she said.

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