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Council to set up QC-led inquiry into compulsory purchase order

The full council at the London Borough of Lewisham has unanimously agreed to set up an independent inquiry led by a QC to examine matters relating to a controversial proposed compulsory purchase order.

A report drafted by the council’s Head of Law and proposing the establishment of the inquiry was backed at a meeting last night.

Lewisham will now approach the chair of the Bar Council to secure the appointment of the QC.

The council also agreed expenditure of up to £500,000 for the conduct of the inquiry, and for the Executive Director for Children and Young People to be the officer lead.

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A cross party New Bermondsey/Surrey Canal Inquiry Committee comprising four majority group members and the minority party member is to receive the report of the inquiry and receive periodic reports on progress, expenditure incurred and to make recommendations to full council and Lewisham's Mayor and Cabinet for any action arising from the inquiry.

The Head of Law’s report was prepared following a series of allegations in the press – and The Guardian in particular – in relation to the planned CPO of land at New Bermondsey/Surrey Canal near Millwall Football Club’s stadium.

The CPO was intended to help complete a comprehensive development of the area, but the council has now abandoned plans to pursue the order.

Allegations have been made about a charitable organisation, the Surrey Canal Foundation Trust, which was to manage a new sports centre. The council pledged £500,000 to the trust in June 2014 subject to a funding agreement being put in place.

The inquiry will, amongst other things, consider that pledge and the accuracy of the report on which it was based, as well as statements made by Renewal (the developer) and the trust to the council.

The Head of Law's report said: “An inquiry conducted externally would inspire confidence in the public and all parties concerned that the conduct and outcome of the review are free from council influence and are truly independent.”

In a series of tweets, the council said the inquiry would “help ensure our decisions and actions of members/officers are of the highest standard”.

It added that once the inquiry is complete the outcome would be reported to full council and made public.

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