Allotment appeal dismissed by charity tribunal

The Charity Commission was correct in making a scheme to transfer the ownership of land in Buckinghamshire to a charity, the tribunal has ruled

An appeal against two Charity Commission rulings to transfer allotments from a parish council to a charitable trust has been rejected by the charity tribunal.

The claimant in the case said the decision, published last week following a hearing in June, said the decision could affect approximately 800 parishes across the country.

A tribunal's ruling says that the Charity Commission was correct in ordering allotments owned by Hughenden Parish Council in Buckinghamshire to be transferred to a charity called the Hughenden Community Support Trust.

Pauline Densham, who shares an allotment in Hughenden and who brought the appeal against the Charity Commission’s decision, claimed Hughenden Parish Council was the rightful owner of the 10-acre allotment land and should not have to transfer it to the charity.

Because the council has a statutory duty to provide allotments, according to Densham, it would then be forced to rent the land back from the charity.

The allotments were created following the Enclosure and Improvement of Commons Act 1845, which fenced off and divided up common land, and as part of the act, two parcels of land were awarded to the council in 1855 and 1862 to provide allotments for the labouring poor.

A council clerk registered the allotments as a charity under the name Allotments for Labouring Poor in 1966, a move Densham argued was an error.

Densham said changes to the law introduced by the Local Government Act 1894 backed up the council’s claim to the land.

The charity lay dormant on the register until the council was considering selling part of the plot off in 1994, and a clerk wrote to the Charity Commission to find out what the legal position was.

The commission created a scheme in early November 2015 to transfer the allotments to the charity, following a public consultation in 2014.

The charity’s first trustees were eventually appointed in 2006, but Densham’s appeal argued that these appointments were invalid, as there was no statutory power which could be used to appoint trustees for the charity.

But the tribunal has rejected that the charity and the appointment of trustees are invalid, and has found in favour of the Charity Commission.

Speaking to Third Sector, Densham said: "Following registration, councils will be forced to give up their ownership of the allotments. Individual trustees will be appointed from members of the public, and the ownership of the land will be vested in the Official Custodian for Charities. 

"There will not be a legal requirement for the land to be kept as allotments, and the new trustees will have the freedom to use the land in whatever way they think is best.

"It is thought that, as a result of this decision, more than 1,000 acres of allotment land will be lost and approximately 800 parishes affected."

Densham also said she would ask for permission to appeal to the upper tribunal against the latest ruling.

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