A team at Bates Wells led by Laura Soley and Jaqui Symcox recently supported the Friends of the Victoria Hall (FoVH), a community group representing local residents and organisations of Ealing, in the First-tier Tribunal. FoVH were appealing against a scheme allowing Ealing Council, as trustee of the Victoria Hall charity, to sell the historic Victoria Hall to a private hotel provider for development.
There is considerable local opposition to the sale of the Victoria Hall, which was built in 1888 from monies raised from the inhabitants of Ealing to commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee and provides a community space.
The disposal of the Victoria Hall forms part of Ealing Council’s wider plans to sell off Ealing Town Hall. It appears that when the Council entered into the deal with the hotel provider, they were not aware that Victoria Hall was held on charitable trusts and was not the Council’s own property. Once they became aware, they sought a scheme from the Charity Commission to allow the disposal to go ahead. Under the terms of the deal, the Victoria Hall will be sold off to a hotel provider on a 250 year lease, with only limited protection for community use.
While disappointingly, the Tribunal found that the case for a scheme had been made out, the Tribunal rejected the scheme on the basis that it did not protect the interests of the Victoria Hall charity and has remitted the matter back to the Charity Commission, directing the Charity Commission and the Council to consult with FoVH on the new scheme. The Tribunal noted the need for the scheme to provide proper protections for community use and address historic governance failings of Ealing Council by ensuring that the Council acts in the best interests of the charity and properly manages conflicts with its own interests.
Tony Miller of FoVH commented: “I am delighted that we’ve been proved right about this completely unsatisfactory plan for the Victoria Hall. I look forward to working with the Commission and with Ealing Council to come up with a much better outcome for the people of Ealing.”
While this is good news for the residents of Ealing, the rights of local inhabitants to challenge sales of community property in future will be jeopardised when the new Charities Act provisions come in in late 2023. Once the new provisions come in, the Charity Commission will be able to authorise disposals under a new power, in relation to which there is no right of challenge by local inhabitants to the Tribunal, so rights of local inhabitants to protect their community property may be lost.