Tribunal rules Charity Commission should amend plans for Dunsfold school

Residents of Surrey village successfully challenged regulator's decision on use of the site

Dunsfold school
Dunsfold school

The charity tribunal has upheld a challenge by local residents to a Charity Commission decision on what should happen to a disused school building in the Surrey village of Dunsfold.

Last month, four local residents appeared before the tribunal to argue that a scheme by the Charity Commission, which would make it easier for the empty building to be used for purposes other than a school, should be amended. They said documents dating back to 1839 showed it was intended to be used as a school.

The residents plan to form a charity to purchase the building and use it to house a private nursery.

The Diocese of Guildford, the sole trustee of the school, had argued that it was closed because of dwindling pupil numbers. No one, it said, had since put forward proposals to reopen it in line with a 1957 ruling that said the building had to be used as a Church of England school.

The commission’s scheme said the diocese could let the building for up to 25 years "on such terms as it thinks fit for use for charitable educational purposes".

The tribunal’s ruling, published this week, says the commission’s plan for the building should be amended. It says there should be a "positive obligation on the trustee to give preferential consideration to the provision of a school in Dunsfold, to be run in a manner consistent with the principles of the Church of England, before moving on to consider the wider permitted uses".

It adds that "there should remain discretion for the trustee to consider the other options in the absence of a formal, viable and timely proposal for use of the property as a school for the village".

The other options for the building’s use are listed as "other charitable educational purposes in the parish of Dunsfold" and "other charitable community uses in the parish of Dunsfold", or a combination of the two.

The tribunal’s order says that if the building is to be used as a school, it should be leased for 125 years, but that if it is to be used for other purposes it should be leased for 25 years "in the hope that the property might be returned to use as a school in the not-too-distant future, if not immediately".

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