Regulator ponders action in land dispute between charity and Hitchin Town FC

The football club says the trustees of the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust owe it money it spent unnecessarily in relation to a land swap deal that fell through

Hitchin Town FC: land owned by local charity
Hitchin Town FC: land owned by local charity

The Charity Commission is considering whether to take action in a dispute over a land-owning charity’s ill-fated plan to sell the land it leased to the local football club for redevelopment as a supermarket.

The Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust owns land to be used for sporting purposes in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, including the home of Hitchin Town Football Club.

Earlier this month, the Hertfordshire Mercury newspaper reported that, after negotiations with a developer that dated back to 2005, the charity intended to sell land occupied by Top Field, Hitchin FC’s ground, and take over a new site two miles south of the town.

The football club would relocate and earn a £6.6m windfall – but the deal fell through earlier this year.

The club has made a complaint to the commission about the charity’s actions and has published information on its website, saying: "We want the public of Hitchin to be aware of the misconduct and mismanagement propagated by the Cow Commoners in this affair – which is why we are posting the details of our letter to Joanne Maguire of the Charity Commission on our website – and it shows the damning information we have in great detail."

The letter says that the redevelopment plans "forced the football club to incur unnecessary costs in excess of £100,000", and says it hopes to recover these. "We believe these trustees and not the trust should be personally responsible for the reimbursement of these costs and we are confident the Charity Commission will take appropriate action," the letter says.

Alan Doggett, a trustee of the charity, said that the club would remain at Top Field as a tenant of the charity for the foreseeable future. "All they’re trying to do is blacken our name now," he said. "They’re just digging up the dirt; it’s tragic really."

In September 2014, the club signed a 25-year lease on the site, the charity’s website shows.

Doggett said the charity would be cooperating with the commission and he had spoken with the regulator last week.

A spokeswoman for the commission said: "The Charity Commission has received information from the trustees of the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust regarding the proposed land exchange, and we remain in correspondence with them. Our intention is to ensure that the trustees have made a proper informed decision regarding these proposals and that there are no regulatory concerns for us.

"The commission has received a lot of correspondence from interested parties in connection with the HCCT. At this stage, we are waiting to receive all information from the trustees themselves regarding this matter. We will then be making a decision, taking into account all the information and whether there are regulatory concerns for us to address."

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