The charity tribunal has ruled that the Bath Recreation Ground Trust can lease land to Bath Rugby club to expand its stadium.
After a six-hour hearing in October, the tribunal has allowed a Charity Commission scheme – which would allow the charity to lease part of the ground to the rugby club in return for taking over land the club used for training just outside Bath – to go ahead, according to a tribunal decision document published by the trust on Friday.
The scheme will also allow the charity to expand the plot it already leases to the rugby club, which would be able to extend its 14,500-seater stadium to a capacity of up to 18,000 seats.
In a statement, Bath Recreation Ground Trust said it was pleased by the latest development.
"The Recreation Ground is a key asset of the trust where all activity has been focused to date," said the statement. "The revised scheme now allows the trust to extend its provision of recreation opportunities to other locations in Bath.
"It also allows the trust to conduct discussions with Bath Rugby about their future occupation of the Rec to establish its compatibility with furthering the trust’s objects."
Objectors to the scheme have told local media that they intend to carry on fighting the stadium expansion, although it is not clear what legal route they would take.
Contention over the land, situated next to Bath’s historic city centre, began in 2002, when a judge ruled that the site, which had been given to Bath and North East Somerset Council when the company running it went bust in 1956, was technically land held in charitable trust, and a charity was duly formed to oversee it.
But before the discovery of this charitable status, the council had erected a sports centre on the site and allowed Bath Rugby club to build its stadium. Both of these actions might now be considered a breach of trust, so in 2013 the council asked the commission to draw up a scheme that would allow the land to be leased.
Local residents objected to the idea of charitable land being used for commercial purposes, and formed the Friends of Bath Recreation Ground, which appealed to the charity tribunal to prevent the scheme being put in place.
The tribunal ruled that any new stadium should be built on the footprint of the old one, preventing expansion.
However, on appeal by the trustees and the commission, the Upper Tribunal overturned the ruling in 2015, opening the way for the trustees to continue to let part of the Rec for commercial purposes.
The scheme went back to the first-tier tribunal, which sent it back to the commission to be finalised, before giving its final approval in October.
In a statement, Bath Rugby club said: "After a lengthy period of appeals and counter-appeals, we look forward to focusing once again on bringing forward development proposals for this unique site."
Third Sector was unable to reach the Friends of Bath Recreation Ground for comment, but Rosemary Carne, one of the initial objectors to the scheme, told The Bath Chronicle that it was "a black day for charities" and she would be "taking it further".
Her fellow objector, Jack Sparrow, told The Bath Chronicle he was also considering further action.
"There's no point in going down the charity tribunal path any more because there aren't options to take it any further," he said. "We shall certainly be discussing what to do next."
The rugby club will now have to apply for planning permission from Bath and North East Somerset Council.