Southwark council asks world’s largest law firm to probe way councillor chaired approval of Dulwich Hamlet’s ground

A town hall has asked the world’s largest law firm to investigate the way one of its own chairmen conducted a meeting on a football club’s controversial multi-million pound planning application.

Cllr Martin Seaton supervised approval on July 27 for a 223-flat development on Dulwich Hamlet FC’s current Champion Hill ground, with the 127-year-old club moving next door on to restricted land.

The club may face financial problems if the National League does not allow fans in the next year – but the stadium plans for Greendale Playing Fields are designed to secure its future with a 120-year lease.

Then-Southwark council leader Cllr Peter John opposed the flats scheme and there were tense exchanges between the pair, with the final vote going five-to-two in favour of the scheme on Metropolitan Open Land, which only allows leisure use.

At one stage Cllr Seaton interrupted Cllr John to say: “This is my meeting not yours.”

Southwark council confirmed on Wednesday it has asked UK planning partner Stephen Ashworth of Dentons – the largest firm of solicitors in the world by number of lawyers, with offices in 75 countries – to look at the proceedings of the five-hour meeting.

There are believed to have been “up to half a dozen” complaints about the conduct of the meeting, a source has claimed.

Hamlet fans were so pleased with Cllr Seaton’s conduct of the meeting at the time, some suggested naming a stand after him. Others suggested the toilets be named after Cllr John.

A Southwark council spokesman confirmed yesterday: “A complaint is being investigated according to council procedures.”

These say: “If you believe that a councillor of Southwark council has breached the code of conduct, complain to the monitoring officer by completing the breach of the member code of conduct complaint form.”

Planning committees are quasi-judicial decision-makers independent of the working of the political parties at all town halls, including in Southwark.

The new Dulwich Hamlet pitch would be on a decaying artificial football surface.

But London mayor Sadiq Khan is likely to challenge it because of the use of MOL – a scheme to build on the plot by Sainsbury’s was blocked after a public inquiry in 1999.

Its backers claim football is an acceptable use for MOL – and the new stadium would bring it back into regular use.

Developers Meadow Residential and Southwark council fell out over the town hall’s slow processing of the developer’s 151-flat application for the Champion Hill site in 2017.

When the local authority threatened to issue a compulsory purchase order to seize the land, Meadow devised an even bigger scheme – this time with more than 220 apartments.

Cllr Seaton, who has chaired the planning committee for three years, said: “Planning meetings can be quite intense because they so profoundly affect people’s lives.

“You have to manage the passions which do arise on both sides.

“But I have more than 30 years’ experience chairing committees, and I am confident the result of an investigation will confirm the planning committee’s protocol provides the opportunity for objectors, the applicant, supporters and ward councillors opportunity to share their views about the application.”

Pictured top: Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill ground

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