Allotment holder takes Charity Commission to tribunal over Hughenden Parish Council land rights

The Commission insists ownership of the allotments in Hughenden should be transferred from the parish council to a charity

Charity Tribunal
Charity Tribunal

An allotment holder is taking the Charity Commission to the charity tribunal to challenge the regulator’s decision that allotments overseen by her local parish council should be considered charitable land.

Pauline Densham, who shares an allotment in Hughenden, Buckinghamshire, claims Hughenden Parish Council is the rightful owner of the 10-acre allotment land and should not have to transfer it to a charity, as it has been ordered to by the regulator.

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 parish council in 1855 and 1862, to provide allotments for the labouring poor.

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

"The awards do read as though they have charitable purposes, because they talk about providing for the poor," Densham said.

"But it seems the land is in public ownership – and the parish council is the freehold owner of it on behalf of the public."

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 and after several years of debate, the charity’s first trustees were appointed in 2006.

The charity, now known as The Hughenden Community Support Trust, has no assets or purpose, and the commission created a scheme in early November to transfer the allotments to the charity, following a public consultation in 2014.

"I became involved because I saw a notice for the public consultation near the allotment I share with a friend, and I thought I should get involved," Densham said.

"I firmly believe that the parish council is the free hold owner and it’s not a charity at all."

A Charity Commission spokesman said the scheme provided for the charity to have the purpose of relieving residents of the parish of Hughenden who are in need, hardship or distress, and allowed trustees to sell land and invest the proceeds for the charity.

He said: "The charity was established by enclosure awards stating that the land was to be held on trust as allotments for the labouring poor, which is a charitable purpose for the relief of poverty."

On 24 November, the tribunal had directed the commission to file written submissions on the case by 21 December, before responding to the appeal, he said.

He said the commission had no further comment to make at this stage.

No one from Hughenden Parish Council was available for comment.

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