Football legend Rio Ferdinand and Southwark Council are embroiled in a stand-off with an American property investor, who last week evicted football club Dulwich Hamlet from its grounds.
Meadow Residential, which wants to turn Champion Hill into flats and build a new football ground next door, has set up metal fencing outside to stop anyone entering.
Meadow has been at war with Southwark and Dulwich Hamlet ever since it had to pull its planning application in October 2017.
Southwark opposed Meadow’s plans because they did not come close to meeting its target for 35% affordable housing in new developments.
Meadow withdrew its planning application on 20 October, accusing Southwark of “defamatory statements”. It threatened Southwark leader Peter John with a libel action for criticising them on Twitter.
Despite not being allowed to develop the site, Meadow is refusing to sell, and even rejected a bid of £10 million from Rio Ferdinand’s Legacy Foundation just before Christmas, according to the Independent.
Southwark Council has now stepped in.
Councillor Mark Williams, cabinet member for regeneration and new homes, has written a report recommending the acquisition of the freehold to “enable the delivery of new council homes”, as well as to “secure the long-term future of Dulwich Hamlet”.
Once approved, Southwark’s director of regeneration Stephen Platts will be authorised to open negotiations with Meadow over a purchase.
Meadow is expected to tell Southwark that the site is not for sale, although it is possible Southwark could go down the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) route, whereby it tries to forcibly buy Champion Hill from Meadow, save the football club and build council housing.
“Officers are also seeking further legal advice on the statutory powers at the council’s disposal that would assist in meeting the council’s vision for the site should the council be unsuccessful,” Williams’ report states. “Such powers may include compulsory purchase powers.”
Meadow are understood to be confident that they can resist a CPO.
Former England and Manchester United captain Ferdinand has a long-standing interest in the Bostik Premier Division side.
He grew up in nearby Peckham, is life-long friends with Dulwich manager Gavin Rose, and has trained with the team before.
Ferdinand met Meadow on 14 November to express an interest in Legacy buying Champion Hill. The shares in the football club itself, currently owned by south London construction magnate Nick McCormack, would be transferred over as part of a deal.
But on 18 December Meadow told Ferdinand that the site was not for sale. Legacy has not made a second bid.
Meadow bought Champion Hill for just £5.7 million in February 2014, but told Legacy they would not sell the site for any price.
According to the Independent, the theory in the property industry is that Meadow would not want to sell to another developer who could make more money as soon as they got planning permission.
The club, meanwhile, has had its licence to play at its home ground terminated and been handed legal papers saying it can no longer use the names “Dulwich Hamlet”, “The Hamlet” or the initials “DHFC”.