The charity tribunal has quashed a decision by the Charity Commission not to remove The Town Field, a small recreation ground maintained by the town council in Keswick, Cumbria, from the register of charities.
Christopher Lasper, a local resident, asked the commission to remove the charity on the grounds that a decision by the Commons Commissioner in 1979 to register Keswick Town Council as the owner of the land meant that any charitable trusts relating to it no longer existed.
The regulator refused his request on the grounds that the 1979 decision was a mistake. It argued that the decision was based on a conclusion that there was no existing owner of the land, whereas in fact the land was owned by the Official Custodian for Charities and the town council was itself a trustee as a result of a scheme made in 1951.
But the tribunal has ruled that the 1979 decision was valid because - for reasons that remain unclear but might be the result of confusion over names - neither the Official Custodian nor the town council had drawn the attention of the Commons Commissioner to the fact that the land was owned by the charity.
In the tribunal's decision, published this week, Vivien Rose, the tribunal judge, says: "We are unanimous in finding that the land which constituted the principal asset of the Town Field charity is no longer held under charitable trusts. We therefore quash the original decision of the Charity Commission that formed the basis of this appeal."
However, the tribunal has stopped short of ordering the commission to remove the charity from its register immediately. It has asked the regulator to talk to Keswick Town Council to decide whether the charity is likely to acquire any assets other than the land. The charity should be removed from the register if this had not happened within six months.
In November, the commission asked the tribunal not to consider Lasper’s appeal on the grounds that he was not a person affected by the decision. The tribunal rejected this application.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said the regulator would talk to Keswick Council before deciding what action to take. "We will be studying the tribunal's judgement with interest," she said. "We note that the tribunal has not directed us to remove the Town Field from the register."