Wimbledon Common charity 'lost out on £325k' on sale of land

A surveyor's report ordered by the Charity Commission focuses on the granting of an easement to the local council by the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators

Site of the former Putney Hospital
Site of the former Putney Hospital

The charity responsible for managing Wimbledon Common lost out on at least £325,000 when it sold land access rights to the local council, a surveyor’s report has concluded.

The retrospective valuation report, which was ordered by the Charity Commission and considers what the value of the land should have been when negotiations were taking place in 2012, has been published on the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators’ website.

But Third Sector understands that the conclusions have been challenged by some who believe the actual loss could be £1m or more.

The instructions given to surveyors have been published alongside the report and suggest the land could have been undersold in part because the trustees were afraid Wandsworth Borough Council would issue a compulsory purchase order if it did not agree to the price offered.

The south London charity, which looks after 1,140 acres of common land and is the subject of an ongoing Charity Commission inquiry, granted rights to create an access road across Putney Common, known as an easement, to Wandsworth Borough Council for £350,000 in a deal completed in 2014 – but failed to commission a qualified surveyors’ report, which is required under charity law.

The road leads to the site of the former Putney Hospital, which the council bought from Wandsworth Primary Care Trust in 2012 to develop into a primary school and 24 flats.

In 2015, three trustees who had joined the charity after the easement was granted commissioned a retrospective survey that estimated the easement was worth £1.9m, as reported by Third Sector. But this figure was disputed by the other trustees.

The commission ordered a new survey to be carried out in October 2015, opened an inquiry in August 2016 and appointed an interim manager in May this year. The survey was completed in November last year by the surveying firm Daniel Watney, but the results have only just been published.

The latest report concludes that the WPCC could have demanded as much as £1.35m for the ransom value of the land rights, because the council could not have completed the planned development without them.

But it says that the WPCC had entered into an agreement with the primary care trust in 2010, after the PCT considered bringing the derelict site back into use as a polyclinic, where WPCC would transfer access to the site to the PCT for £250,000.

The transfer never went ahead, but the Daniel Watney survey argues that existence of the agreement meant that, as the new owner, the council would have been entitled to use it, so the WPCC would be unable to hold the rights to ransom.

Therefore, the survey says, the most the WPCC could have asked for in return for the easement would have been £675,000, still £325,000 more than it was actually sold for.

But Third Sector understands that Daniel Watney’s conclusions have been challenged on the basis that the 2010 agreement specifically allows access to a polyclinic and flats, not a school and flats, so the council would have been unable to use it and the value should have remained at £1.35m.

The instructions to the surveyors, prepared by the WPCC lawyers, told them to consider whether "the possibility of the land becoming subject to a compulsory purchase order on less favourable terms" if a voluntary agreement was not reached would have any effect on the value of the easement.

Wandsworth Borough Council declined to comment when asked if it had threatened trustees with a CPO.

A spokesman for the council said in a statement that the negotiations had resulted in a much-needed school being built and greenery in the site being substantially increased.

WPCC declined to comment on the report or the instructions, saying in a statement it would not be appropriate while the interim manager was in place and the report was being considered by the commission, but the board was cooperating fully with statutory inquiry.

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