CHAIRMAN John Berylson has issued a robust defence of Millwall's regeneration plans following criticism from Lewisham Council and developers Renewal.
The Lions claim they were excluded from the process which has seen three pieces of land adjoining The Den sold by the local authority to the private property developer.
The club's own proposals for the area were ignored by the council – but last week it was claimed Millwall's plans amounted to a mere 156-word document.
Renewal said in a statement that the Lions had not put forward a "viable business plan", despite repeated requests from Lewisham Council.
But Berylson has today branded that accusation "nonsense". In a lengthy and detailed press release, the American businessman stated that:
- Millwall have been challenging the sale of the land since last September
- The council refused to provide the club with the information required to make their own bid
- Architects have been working on the Lions' plans since 2006
- He "has more than enough money" to finance the club's plans
- The club is "very concerned" about the future of the Millwall Community Scheme
The statement, in full, reads:
"I am most surprised to find Renewal, a private property developer, issuing a statement apparently on behalf of Lewisham Council about Millwall’s dealings with the Council over the potential sale of land adjoining The Den.
"In its statement Renewal refers to correspondence and meetings between Millwall and the Council. This seems most irregular.
"I have made it clear elsewhere, and I shall make it clear again here, that Millwall has been open and transparent in all its dealings with Lewisham Council.
"Jordana Malik, a director and spokesperson of Renewal, is quoted as being "perplexed as to why those in charge at the club are claiming they have had no knowledge of the land sale".
"I'm perplexed that she should say that. Millwall has never made such a claim. Indeed we have made it clear that we were fully aware of the Council’s plans to sell the land.
"That's why our lawyers wrote to the Council on September 25, 2013 challenging the decision to sell the land to Renewal, and why our property advisers wrote to the Council on November 7 formally confirming the Club’s wish to be permitted to bid for the land.
"On November 13 the Council responded refusing to provide Millwall with the information we required in order to make our bid. We were told that the Council had secured the best deal for the land even though Renewal was the only permitted bidder.
"We made one final attempt on December 6 when our lawyers wrote again to the Council asking them to stop the sale. But the Council ignored us again and exchanged contracts with Renewal for the sale of the three parcels of land on 20 December. They informed us three days later.
"I read that the Club "failed to provide any meaningful detailed evidence of its proposals". This is of course nonsense.
"Millwall commissioned architects to draw up plans for the area around The Den as long ago as 2006 – before any sale of the freeholds materialised and before planning permission for the whole area had been granted.
"In order to ensure that our plans were fully in keeping with the overall agreed scheme for the Surrey Canal Triangle, we commissioned leading architects Mackay and Partners last year to review our existing plans and refine them into a revised proposal for the development of the three areas of land adjoining the stadium.
"Those plans were presented to the Council on August 15 in as much detail as could reasonably be expected at that stage.
"It was made clear that the plans fitted with the outline planning permission, that Chestnut Hill Ventures (Millwall's largest shareholder) had more than enough money to carry out the development without recourse to any third party funding and that the Club could offer legally binding guarantees that the development would be completed within an agreed timescale.
"What other business case could the Council possibly have wanted at that stage?
"If the Council had deigned to consider the Club's plans, the next stage would have been to refine the business case in conjunction with the Council and its advisers but there was no point in doing that – given the considerable further costs involved – if the Council wasn't prepared to play ball.
"Renewal said on February 5 that they had never even been shown our plans, yet they seem to be full of opinions about them.
"Chestnut Hill Ventures is not a property developer. That's why, in order to strengthen the Club's finances, we have engaged top professional advisors who have managed property developments of this size.
"We are attacked for not submitting planning applications and not acquiring land. We aren’t interested in acquiring land other than the areas adjoining The Den.
"Once the Council made it clear that those areas were to be sold, we formally asked to be allowed to bid for them. We had no need of planning permission because it had already been granted for the whole area.
"We have invested more than £3 million in helping that whole process and in our own plans, as well as in protecting the interests of the Club.
"Assurances are being given about our community scheme. But the Council and Renewal don't seem to understand the nature of its funding and how it operates.
"Although the Council and Renewal can match our offer of a new home and new sports facilities, only we can guarantee the financial support and access to the Football League funding on which it depends.
"Furthermore, the viability of the Millwall Community Scheme is not just about its funding. It's also about its direct links to the Club and our resources – the provision of coaching staff, player involvement, the use of our facilities and tickets for our matches. We are very concerned about its long term future.
"Finally, I will reiterate the point that is behind all of this. Chestnut Hill Ventures has supported Millwall for the last seven years since I became Chairman and I have expressed my personal commitment to the Club, and to its home at The Den, many times.
"I am a huge fan and I have the most expensive season ticket! In the long term, Millwall Football Club needs to be a viable commercial enterprise, and that means that it needs non-football income that is stable and secure.
"We always assumed that we would be left to develop the land adjoining our stadium. The Council has said that we are at the heart of the community and core to their strategic plans for the Borough.
"So in good faith we have played our part, and incurred substantial costs, in supporting the overall plans for this urban regeneration. We haven’t been greedy. We have offered the Council a stake in our proposed developments.
"As things stand, we have been excluded from the benefits of the Surrey Canal Triangle development. Our stadium is shown at the core of the plans and we are expected to carry on staging football matches and investing more money in The Den.
"Meanwhile, the Council does deals with a private property developer and expects us to stand on the touchline and cheer.
"That’s not my style. I don’t want a fight with anybody, but I shall stand up and be counted for Millwall Football Club."