A former MP has resigned as a trustee of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation because of disagreements over the future of Arundells, the former prime minister’s home in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
The foundation applied to the Charity Commission in October for a scheme to sell the property, which is in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral, because trustees felt they could no longer afford to keep open after visitor numbers dwindled.
"We did try to keep the house open for six years but we can’t afford to continue," said Lord Armstrong, chair of the trustees.
But Peter Batey, a British businessman based in Beijing but not a member of the foundation’s board, has since proposed a business plan to raise the money needed to restore the building, which has thrown plans to dispose of the property into disarray.
Robert Key, former Conservative MP for Salisbury and a former colleague of Heath’s, resigned after the plan was submitted because he said it would delay any sale.
"The house should be sold and the money spent on young people, not on old buildings," he told Third Sector. "We have consulted everyone, including English Heritage, and all the advice is that Arundells will never be financially viable. The commission told us it would have to consider the new plan and that will mean a delay of about two years so I think the will of the trustees has been thwarted."
But a spokeswoman for the commission said it was not holding up the decision on whether to sell Arundells and said it was up to the trustees whether to take the proposed business plan forward before it could decide to grant the scheme.
"The ball is very much in their court," she said.
In September 2011, the regulator rejected an application to sell the home because it concluded that trustees had not fully explored all the options.
Key said the building should be sold to a private individual and enjoyed as a family home.
"There is a misconception that the foundation was well-endowed in addition to the house, which is not true," he said. "The charity’s assets are the house and not much else besides."
Gerald Gibson, chair of the Friends of Arundells, a grass-roots campaign group that wants the building to stay open to the public, said: "Heath clearly stated in his will that he wanted to give the house to the nation and that he wanted it used in connection with his favourite pursuits, which were sailing, music and politics."