Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had right to sell land, Charity Commission rules

A report from the regulator says there was no reason the trust could not sell land near the house where William Shakespeare's wife was born

Anne Hathaway's Cottage: land in question was nearby
Anne Hathaway's Cottage: land in question was nearby

The Charity Commission has ruled that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust did have the power to sell land near the house where William Shakespeare’s wife was born after being alerted to the charity’s plans by a member of the public.

The commission has released its report on the case surrounding the sale of land adjacent to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery, near Stratford-upon-Avon, which revealed it had received a tip-off that the charity was planning to sell land though it was not entitled to do so.

After further investigation, however, the commission found the land itself was not of historical interest so the charity, which manages five homes and gardens directly connected to Shakespeare’s life, as well as a museum and library, could sell it without affecting its charitable objectives.

Trustees voted in favour of selling the parcel of land, in principle, to the developer Bloor and Hallam Land Management on 3 October.

The charity had opposed plans to build a link road between two new housing developments on the land adjacent to the site and used the charity’s funds to fight the proposals, which were initially rejected by Stratford District Council in 2013.

But the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government allowed the developers to appeal the decision and the High Court rejected the council’s legal challenge.

A statement from the SBT said that refusing to sell once it was clear the road would be going ahead "would have sacrificed all the hard-fought-for protections" the charity had already won through its objections and left it with no control over future development.

The charity’s governing document was set out in the Shakespeare Birthplace and Trust Act, 1961, so if it had not been free to sell the land it would have needed to go through parliament to draw up a scheme with the Charity Commission in order to sell.

But the commission’s report said: "We were not provided with any evidence by the complainants to prove that the land in question was of historic interest.

"The charity assured us that it has carried out considerable research and had not been able to establish a specific connection between the land and William Shakespeare or members of his family."

The trustees attached a series of "non-negotiable" requirements on the sale, including developers having to safeguard the views from the cottage, redesign the proposed road by sinking it into a cutting to hide it from view, mitigate the noise or light levels and install drainage schemes to protect the cottage.

The trust said it had taken into account the views of local people, but trustees had a legal responsibility to act only in the best interests of the charity and could not take into account wider factors such as the demand for and objections to housing.

The sale has not yet taken place.

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