Local Davids take Goliath to the Charity Tribunal

Two Dartford residents are challenging a decision to approve a council deal on charitable land. Paul Jump reports

An aerial view of Central Park, Dartford
An aerial view of Central Park, Dartford

Key to illustration: The General Kidd legacy land is outlined in black and the Tesco development in red. The part of the charitable land the local council sold to Tesco and its development partner is marked in yellow. The replacement land is marked in green.

1. Library, 2. Residential, 3. Mixed residential and community, 4. Leisure, cafe and retail, 5. Improved park frontage.

 

Everyone loves a story of David versus Goliath. The Charity Tribunal was always intended to be the sling with which individuals and small charities unable to afford High Court cannons could still have a crack at the Charity Commission giant. Throw in the mighty Tesco and you have a story to rival the First Book of Samuel.

Not that Dartford Borough Council sees it that way. According to Jeremy Kite, the council leader, the two Dartford residents who have appealed against the commission's proposed solution to the unauthorised sale of charitable land by the council for a supermarket development project are just anti-Tesco campaigners with nowhere left to turn.

Tesco and its development partner, St James' Investments, bought a large section of land near the centre of the Kent town in 2004 with the intention of building a Tesco Extra and 900 flats. But the site included a small section of land left in trust to the town by a certain General Kidd in 1903. The council accepted £275,000 for it. The commission concluded the land should not have been sold but accepted that the council, which is the trust's sole trustee, had made an honest mistake.

The regulator deemed there was no prospect of the land being recovered, and decided the best solution would be for the council to replace it with another piece of land worth £5,000 and use the difference in values - £270,000 - for the upkeep of the existing charitable land, which forms about one-eighth of Dartford's Central Park (12 May, page 1).

The two appellants - neither of whom has a solicitor - argued that the commission failed to investigate properly whether the council had acted in good faith. One of them, Lennox Ryan, said: "It is very difficult to get away from the fact that the people involved were charity and property law specialists." He also questioned whether the new arrangements were in the charity's best interests.

But Kite told Third Sector the appeal was only the latest chapter in a long-running local 'say no to Tesco' campaign. He denied there was a conflict of interest in the council acting as the charity's sole trustee - especially because, at the commission's behest, a committee had been set up for the purpose. No one from that committee was allowed to sit on the planning committee, which had yet to approve the development, said Kite.

He said the legacy land sold was a sliver of neglected land at the edge of Central Park. "We are building an Edwardian park," he said. "I wish people could see our plans for it: it will be the antidote to a weary world."

Kite claimed that the commission had objected only to the proceeds of the land sale going into council coffers, rather than to the sale itself. He also denied the sale had breached the terms of Kidd's will. "Things move on and you have to try to equate modern law with the old documents," he said.

A spokesman for Tesco said the development would see a large area of central Dartford regenerated and would maintain the "connectivity" between the park and neighbouring streets. He said the council had not asked for the charitable land to be returned, and he was unable to comment on how Tesco would respond if it did.

Key numbers:

£275k: The sum paid to the council by developers for the disputed land

900: The number of flats Tesco and St James' Investments plan to build alongside a superstore

1903: The year General Kidd left land to the town for a park

 

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