Commission castigates council over land use

By Andy Ricketts, Third Sector Online, 24 August 2007

The Charity Commission has criticised a county council for a "breach of trust" after it allowed a leisure centre to be built on charitable land for which it acts as a trustee.

In a report published this week after a four-year inquiry, the regulator found that Bath and North East Somerset Council had sanctioned activity that contravened the charitable status of the Recreation Ground in Bath. Councillor Chris Watt is chair of the Bath Recreation Ground Trust on behalf of the council.

Activities included the construction of a leisure centre and adjoining car park on some of the land and the granting of repeat leases to Bath Rugby Club for its stadium, which is also on the site.

“The commission has taken the view that the occupation of the Rec by the leisure centre and car park is in breach of trust,” the report says. “The purposes of the Rec are clear: that the principal use of the Rec is for outdoor games and sports.”

The regulator criticised the council for dragging its heels over a strategic review of the use of the land, which was proposed in 2003 but did not start until late 2006.

The commission also appointed interim managers to help the council resolve some of the complex issues around the granting of leases to the various groups using the land.

The commission insists that the outstanding issues around the use of the land are resolved following the publication of its report.

“The commission has made it clear to the council that issues remain about the current use of the Recreation Ground for activities that are inconsistent with its charitable purposes,” a spokesman for the Charity Commission said.

However, Councillor Watt said discussions were still taking place.

“The trust is now looking forward to resolving the future strategic direction of the Recreation Ground,” he said. “The trust has a good working relationship with the Charity Commission and is making progress.”

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