A trust in Bath that breached its charitable objects by allowing a leisure centre to be built on charitable land is to ask the Charity Commission if it can offer alternative land for public use by way of compensation.
In 2002, the High Court found that the Recreation Ground Trust, which owns a site that includes the home ground of Bath Rugby Club, was in "breach of trust" when it allowed a leisure centre to be built on the land.
The ruling found the charity guilty of a breach because its purpose is to maintain the land as an open space for sports and recreation.
The High Court also found that the charity’s act of leasing out part of the Rec to Bath Rugby Club was not permitted because the club was a commercial organisation.
But the board of the RGT, which is managed by Bath and North East Somerset Council as the corporate trustee, decided at a meeting earlier this month that it would draft a submission to the Charity Commission.
It will seek to: amend the charity’s objects to include indoor activities and therefore "regularise the sports and leisure centre"; permit the grant of a new lease to Bath Rugby Club; and compensate for the lease by enabling the charity to acquire Lambridge Rugby Ground, a site owned by the rugby club on the outskirts of the city that would be gifted to the charity and made available for public use.
The trust proposes to allow the rugby club to expand the stadium, which the club says is essential if it is to remain commercially viable. A trust document outlining its proposals says that if the stadium is not expanded "Premiership rugby will leave the Rec and the charity will lose 75 per cent of its annual income".
The document says: "This would mean the charity would not have enough income to cover its costs. On top of this, the club would still occupy the land in the existing lease at a nominal rent and with no improved access to the beneficiaries."
The minutes of an RGT board meeting that took place earlier this year said that "with regard to the abuse presented by the leisure centre, the Charity Commission have previously indicated that they agree that a cy-pres situation has occurred and this could be regularised by changing the objects to include indoor activities if submitted as part of the whole scheme".
The minutes added: "The commission would need to agree that the total benefits offered were enough to outweigh the detriment created by the two abuses."
Some local opposition exists to the Lambridge proposal. A recent consultation, which received more than 4,500 responses, found that 77 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that the benefits secured by the trust’s proposed land use are "greater than any additional detriments arising from them", but 12 per cent strongly disagreed.
Of those that thought the benefits did not outweigh the detriments, the most common reason given was that "the Rec is for all, not just rugby and not commercial gain".
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said it was aware of the public consultation:" The Trustee is to give due consideration to the responses to the consultation exercise prior to drawing conclusions that will inform the next steps in the process of resolving the long term future of the recreation ground. Having done so, it is likely that the Trustee will submit its formal application for a scheme to us."
She added that the commission would "give careful consideration to the application, once it has been received, taking into account all relevant information", and that the commission must be satisfied that the proposals are "expedient in the interests of the charity".