Peter John, the leader of Southwark Council, has resigned as a trustee of the charity at the heart of the controversial £1bn development scheme on land surrounding Millwall Football Club.
John issued a statement today saying he was leaving the board of the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation to focus on his work for the south-east London council.
The Charity Commission opened a case on the charity at the start of January and it is also part of an independent investigation, instigated by the council, of the issues surrounding the New Bermondsey regeneration scheme.
The SCSF, founded by the regeneration scheme’s developer Renewal in 2011, had planned to build a sports centre as part of the development. It claimed it had received a £2m funding pledge from Sport England for the sports facility, but this was later denied by the funder itself.
Renewal said it would provide 2,400 homes and an improved setting for Millwall FC’s stadium, but local residents and politicians had warned it could force Millwall to leave the area.
Lewisham Council planned to issue a compulsory purchase order to secure the land needed for the development to go ahead, but this idea was dropped last week after negative media coverage. The mayor of Lewisham, also a trustee of SCSF, was forced to deny there had been any conflict of interest.
In his statement, John said : "There is an independent inquiry ongoing in Lewisham and I don’t want to pre-empt the findings of that, but I do find it regrettable that within the current debate about the CPO the vision, ambition and integrity of those involved have been questioned."
But as leader of Southwark Council, John added, he needed to give priority to issues in his own borough.
"With this in mind, I have had to question whether my time is well spent responding to the many queries and challenges arising from my membership of the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation board," he said.
"Therefore, and with genuine regret, I have reached the conclusion that I should withdraw from membership of the board. I still hope that the ambition and vision that Lewisham Council has to bring new homes and opportunities to this important part of south London can be delivered at some point in the future with the support of Millwall FC."
John also announced his resignation on Twitter last night, saying he believed in the "integrity and vision" of the charity.
In his resignation statement, he said it had always been his understanding that regeneration proposals did not require a choice between Millwall FC staying in the area and the development going ahead.
A spokeswoman for SCSF said: "We respect the leader of Southwark Council Peter John’s decision to step down from his position as trustee of the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation and welcome his sentiments regarding the integrity and vision of the foundation."
She added that the charity remained committed to delivering the sports facilities.