Charity Commission intervenes in dispute over charitable land

Waltham Forest Council in London plans to build a school on Leyton Sports Ground

The Charity Commission is meeting a local authority in east London this week to consider the council's plans to build a 1,700-pupil school on a section of charitable land that it holds in trust.

Leyton Sports Ground was gifted to Waltham Forest Council in the 1940s to be used "for the enjoyment and recreation of the youth of east London and west Essex". Part of the land forms the historic Leyton Cricket Ground, the home of Essex County Cricket Club until 1933.

The council, which has not submitted accounts for the ground for the past five years, issued a public notice in May publicising its intention to use a clause in the Local Government Act 1972 to appropriate derelict land adjacent to the cricket pitch and build a school on it (Third Sector Online, 29 May).

Local protesters, who fear the loss of local sports provision and oppose plans to close two of the area's existing schools, have complained to the Charity Commission.

A commission spokeswoman said the regulator told the council it did not believe the act could be used to appropriate the land and the council agreed to withdraw its application. But the commission had agreed to the council's request for a meeting to discuss the school plans, she said. "The commission will listen to the council's proposals and can offer advice on its role as trustee of the sports ground," she said. "Any decision made will be within the framework of charity law."

A spokesman for Waltham Forest Council said the borough no longer wanted to appropriate the land because it believed its proposals, which include the provision of "community facilities", met the trust arrangements. He said the cricket ground would be unaffected and no sports currently played on the land would be prevented by the proposals.

The spokesman also welcomed the meeting with the commission. "It will be the first opportunity for the commission to see what we are planning and for us to hear what their problems are," he said. "So far it has only been local people repeating information that they know is inaccurate."

Residents in Dartford, Kent are currently appealing to the Charity Tribunal against the commission's vetting of Dartford Borough Council's scheme to use the proceeds of the illegal sale of a section of charitable land to fund the upkeep of the rest.

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