The Prince’s Trust has insisted it is acting appropriately over the planned lease of a west London property used by one of its trading arms, despite an apparent conflict of interest with a company bidding to take it over.
The youth education and employment charity has announced that it will close the Fulham Palace Garden Centre, which raises funds for the charity, on 31 August.
A statement on the garden centre’s website says it is in negotiations over the site’s future, with the likelihood of leasing it to another organisation.
It is understood that the pet supplies retailer Pets at Home is among those bidding to take over the site – raising concerns about a potential conflict of interest, because Amy Stirling, chief financial officer of the charity, is also an independent non-executive director of the retailer. She took up both roles in February this year.
A spokeswoman for the Prince’s Trust said: "The trust’s CFO has no influence over decisions being made – the whole process is being managed by an independent surveying company, Colliers International, in line with charity law.
"We are duty-bound as a charity to focus on our core activity of supporting disadvantaged young people into jobs and training. The decision to lease the site of the garden centre is based on the very best of intentions to help more young people to get their lives on track."
The spokeswoman said that the charity understood the concerns of local residents and would "work with any future tenants to reflect the character of the local surroundings".
A spokesman for Pets at Home said he could not comment on the situation.
The garden centre was formerly known as Fairbridge Garden Centre and became part of the Prince’s Trust when it merged with the youth charity Fairbridge in 2011.
The charity’s accounts for the year to 31 March 2012 show that the garden centre generated £941,000 of the Prince’s Trust’s £55.3m total income for the year. It had nine members of staff.
More than 1,600 people have put their names to a petition on the website Change.org that opposes the sale of the property to Pets at Home. "There is considerable local resistance to the change of use to a large retail outlet such as Pets at Home, which is more in keeping with an out-of-town retail site, and the whole process does not reflect well on the Prince's Trust," the petition says.