Commission blows for foul against football club

A charitable trust may have to evict a non-league football club that uses its land after the Charity Commission ruled that the land must be made available for public use.

The issue arose this summer when Bashley Football Club, which plays in the Hampshire village, was negotiating a new 20-year lease with Bashley Village Hall and Recreation Ground, the trust that manages the land, bought by public subscription in the 40s for use by the general public.

The trust wrote to the commission under the impression that it was obliged to have the lease rubber-stamped by the regulator.

A spokesman for the commission said the trust had not been obliged to consult it, but said the regulator had written back in June advising the trustees that they had the power to lease the land only if it was not needed for the charity’s stated purposes. He added that it would be hard to sustain that the land was not needed for public use.

The commission also advised the trustees that “generally speaking, a lease of 20 years would not be consistent with the provision of a recreation ground for the public”. It wrote that it might be acceptable for them to allow the club to use the land on a regular basis “so long as that does not interfere with public access the rest of the time”.

However, Gordon Dawson, secretary of the charity, said that the club, which plays in the Southern League Premier Division, three tiers below the Football League, had built a stand on the ground during its previous 20-year lease.

The regulator described the stand as “inconsistent with the trusts of the charity” and advised it to consider whether the land could be restored to its original purpose or else require the club to compensate it for the loss in some other way.

But Dawson said that if the football club was forced to demolish the stand it would have to move to another ground elsewhere, depriving the village of a football team and the charity of £5,000 a year in rental income.

“No one objected to the stand when it was built,” he said. “If we didn’t lease the land we would have to pay for the upkeep of the village hall ourselves, which we wouldn’t be able to afford. The club doesn’t lease all of the land, so we think that satisfies our charitable remit.”

He said the trustees were still waiting for the club committee to respond to the commission’s letter. “Our hands are tied,” he said.

The commission spokesman said the onus was on the trustees to take independent legal advice and move forward accordingly. “If we get a complaint, that might be an issue, but we won’t be checking up,” he said. “It is not for us to ratify the lease and we don’t have the resources for ongoing monitoring.”

A Bashley FC spokesman said solicitors were working on the matter and were hopeful a solution could be reached.

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