Birmingham agrees to public meeting to settle Highbury Hall dispute

Move follows criticism over city council's use of building for non-charitable purposes

Birmingham City Council will hold a public meeting in September to decide the future of Highbury Hall, the charity and former home of the city's Victorian mayor Joseph Chamberlain.

The council made an agreement with the Charity Commission to hold a public meeting on the future of the 31-acre estate after local community groups criticised it for using the building and its surroundings for non-charitable purposes.

The main building on the estate is used as a conference and banqueting centre, and another building as offices for social services staff.

A spokesman for the council said a meeting was originally planned for July but this had not proved feasible.

"The meeting will now take place in September, and will be publicised in good time once details have been confirmed," he said.

The council is the sole trustee of Highbury Trust, which runs the hall and its gardens and parkland, bequeathed by Joseph Chamberlain "to the benefit of the citizens of Birmingham".

But it has faced calls from community groups and Chamberlain's great granddaughter, Mary de Vere Taylor, that it has been misusing the property and should appoint independent trustees.

"I feel that, though the council should still be involved, this is something that needs to be on a more independent basis than it is at the moment, where there is a conflict of interest," she told Third Sector Online.

Tony Thapar, coordinator of the Moseley Community Development Trust, part of a consortium of organisations opposed to the council's use of Highbury Hall, said: "After years of mismanagement and poor stewardship, we would prefer the council to simply become another member of the board and not have such control over the trust any more. The Chamberlain family should be the ones that have custodianship."

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