Charity Commission opens case into charity at heart of Millwall FC controversy

The regulator will not confirm the issues behind its probe of the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation

The New Den: Millwall FC's ground
The New Den: Millwall FC's ground

The Charity Commission has opened a case into the sports charity at the heart of a controversial £1bn development scheme involving a compulsory purchase order of land around Millwall Football Club’s ground in London.

The sports charity the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation has claimed it received a £2m funding pledge from Sport England for a sports facility on the proposed development, but this has been denied by the funder itself.

According to Lewisham Council’s website, planning permission was granted in 2012 for the New Bermondsey regeneration scheme. The developer Renewal, which set up the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation in 2011, said this would provide 2,400 homes and an improved setting for Millwall FC’s stadium.

The council website says Renewal has been purchasing land at the site since 2004, and in a meeting on 7 September 2016 the council decided that a compulsory purchase order should be made for the rest of the land needed for the development.

Earlier this month, a council meeting to discuss the compulsory purchase order was adjourned, with a new meeting expected in February, according to the football club.

Council discussions about the development have cited the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation’s claim that it has a £2m funding pledge from Sport England towards a £40m sports complex on the New Bermondsey site.

But a spokeswoman for Sport England said: "In 2010 we received a funding application from the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation, but this was subsequently withdrawn in 2013. We therefore have no funding agreement, of any kind, in place with them."

In a statement from Steve Norris, chair of the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation, the charity said it approached Sport England in 2011 to seek a £2m funding commitment for the sports facility in New Bermondsey.

"In October 2013 we received a formal letter from Sport England which referenced their ongoing support for the project and that the application was now being moved onto the strategic facilities fund," the statement said.

"While the SCSF has made significant progress over the past four years, we have not progressed a more formal application since October 2013 due to the inordinate length of the compulsory purchase order process and ongoing land assembly led by Renewal. 

"We are still awaiting the outcome of the CPO process, but following this we intend to re-engage Sport England and will be making a formal application for funding in the coming weeks."

The Charity Commission spokesman said its case on the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation was opened at the start of January and concerned a number of issues, but he was unable to confirm what these were.

According to the Charity Commission’s website, Surrey Canal Sports Foundation had no stated income in 2015/16, 2014/15 and 2013/14, with a £5,000 income in the year to 28 February 2013, meaning the charity did not have to file accounts with the regulator in any of those years.

The charity spent £97,080 in 2012/13, £232,200 in 2013/14, £236,074 in 2014/15 and £198,112 in 2015/16, the Charity Commission website says.

The most recent accounts available on the commission’s website, which are for the year to 29 February 2012, show the charity had net assets of £901, a total income of £48,269 and spending of £47,368.

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

At the football club’s annual general meeting last month, its chairman, John Berylson, said that although the club would welcome the redevelopment of the area around the stadium, it wanted to "be able to develop our own land within the wider scheme for the benefit of the club and its fans and neighbours".

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