Allegations are incorrect

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With reference to Gerry Hutchinson’s letter ‘I believe council has exceeded its powers’ (Lincolnshire Free Press, November 5), I am responding as South Holland District Council’s portfolio holder with responsibility for operational aspects of the Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field.

The allegations are incorrect and I would like to make it clear that the council has not exceeded its powers in respect of the playing field.

Mr Hutchinson says he has researched the powers and responsibilities of trustees but he doesn’t appear to have researched them with regard to the trustees of the Sir Halley Stewart Trust.

The trust deed has been on the district council’s website for quite some time so that people can see and understand the extent of the council’s involvement.

There are a number of inaccuracies within Mr Hutchinson’s “irrefutable facts”:

1. There are no wishes of Sir Halley Stewart’s to adhere to with regards to the field. Sir Halley died in 1937 and it was the trustees who wished to have a field in his memory some 15 years later.

2. The council does actually own the playing field. It was sold to the former Spalding Urban District Council and South Holland District Council, as successor to that authority, now owns the property.

The trust is perpetual (so lasts forever – subject to a change in the law or a decision of the courts). This does not mean that the land cannot be sold.

The council has all the powers of an owner and can sell trust land subject to compliance with charity law, and orders of the Charity Commission and court. By way of example, the law provides that a charitable trust may sell trust land, but that the proceeds of sale cannot normally be appropriated to non-charitable purposes. This means that the council could not use the sale proceeds for its usual (non-charitable) business.

3. The trust document does not need to mention the word “sport”, as the definition of a playing field, according to the Collins English Dictionary, is “a field or open space used for sport”. It is worth pointing out, however, that both the conveyance and the trust deed refer to use of the field for the purposes of section 4 of the Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937 (though this Act has since been repealed).

Spalding United Football Club does not have any legal estate in the land. An associated body, The Tulips Social Club, does hold a lease of part of the site.

The football club does not have “sole rights to occupy the field on a permanent basis, to the exclusion of others”. The sports facilities are available

for hire by clubs, organisations and individuals through a booking process.

When Spalding United use the pitch, it is through the same booking process under which other organisations book and use the facility.

The playing field is managed and maintained by the council, the cost of which is funded through its Spalding Special Expenses Account, which is audited by the council, Spalding Town Forum, appointed auditors and the Charity Commission.

Finally, I would like to assure Mr Hutchinson and every other resident of South Holland that the council is committed to getting the best use of The Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field for the inhabitants of Spalding.

Coun Nick Worth

Deputy Leader, South Holland District Council