St Albans Clarence Park campaigners claim conflicts of interest
- Credit: Archant
A NEWLY-formed pressure group has approached the Charity Commission to express concerns about conflicts of interest and breaches of the charitable trust governing a major part of a St Albans park.
Protect Clarence Park! was set up by local residents in February in response to the district council’s proposal to make changes to the trust deed for the recreation ground on the northern side of the park which is occupied by St Albans City FC (SACFC) as well as the city’s cricket, bowling and hockey clubs.
Residents fear changes will undermine the protection given by the trust deed and will allow commercialisation in the park now or in the future.
Protect Clarence Park! says that there have been numerous breaches of the trust deed, such as the exclusion of the public from the football ground in recent years, the siting of utility compounds in the park and the variation of St Albans City FC’s licence in 2002 which sought to give the club statutory renewal rights as a business tenant.
In addition since last year, the first floor of SACFC’s clubhouse has been marketed to commercial users at a rent of £25,000 pa.
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The pressure group has asked the council whether a letting by SACFC would mean the the club would make a profit from the charity’s asset for which it was initially and – to judge from the charity’s most recent accounts – still appears to be paying a nominal rent.
Protect Clarence Park! maintains that if SACFC has no use for the premises, it is the charity that should benefit from any income.
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One of the group’s main concerns is that all the trustees of the charitable trust are also council cabinet members which, they maintain, gives rise to serious conflicts of interest in any decision-making regarding the Clarence Park trust.
And they believe the council has not acknowledged “the profound conflict” it currently faces in deciding whether to support SACFC in its stated ambition to relocate to a Green Belt site in Colney Heath Lane where it wishes to build a new stadium and training facilities.
A spokesperson for the pressure group said: “In view of these breaches and conflicts, Protect Clarence Park! believes that the Charity Commission should intervene urgently to order a change of the make up of the trustee board, such that the council would be required to invite representatives of park users, local ward councillors and bodies such as the St Albans Civic Society to join the trustee board.”
St Albans council’s portfolio holder for the environment, Cllr Daniel Chichester-Miles, maintained the council was being wholly transparent about the changes it was proposing. But he said there was a need to update the deed which was written in 1894 so that it was fit for purpose in 2013 and beyond, adding: “We want to protect the park for future generations to enjoy and also regularise current arrangements.”
n A copy of the letter sent by Protect Clarence Park! to the Charity Commission can be found on the group’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/groups/468137913240956/ or can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org