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Charity still waiting for information from council on controversial land swap

The Maindy Park Trust Advisory Committee decided to make a recommendation to Cardiff Council's cabinet for a proposed land swap, which could pave the way for the Cathays High expansion, to go ahead (Pic: Ted Peskett)

THE CHARITY Commission is still waiting for information from Cardiff Council about a controversial land swap months after it requested it.

Cardiff Council has provided information and answered questions from the Charity Commission about the governance of Maindy Park Trust but the commission says it is still waiting on additional information from the council which it needs to consider the land swap application.

The council is the sole trustee of the charity, which oversees Maindy Park in Cathays, and it has applied to the Charity Commission to carry out a land swap which would see land at Maindy Park exchanged for land at Caedelyn Park in Rhiwbina.

If the land swap is approved, Cardiff will be able to expand the nearby Cathays High School as planned.

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We have engaged with Cardiff Council around the past governance of Maindy Park Trust, and are considering their response and whether any further information is needed.

“We have explained to the council what further information we would need to consider the application for consent to the land swap and await their response.”

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A correspondence from the Charity Commission to Cardiff Council in August 2023, obtained by a freedom of information request, shows the local authority told the commission that a lease involving trust land, agreed between the council and a leisure centre operator, may have been incorrectly entered into.

A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “The arrangement with GLL has not resulted in any change in use of the Maindy facility by the public, only the management of it.”

Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), which runs Maindy Centre, has had the lease for Maindy Park Trust land since December 2016.

There is also a velodrome at Maindy Park which, if the school expansion can go ahead as planned, will be demolished.

The Charity Commission asked for more information about the charity’s financial position and the decision making around the leisure centre and lease with GLL.

Cardiff Council’s statement of accounts shows that in nearly every year during the five-year period between 2018 to 2023, the trust made an income of between £374 and £1,659.

In the years 2020-21 and 2021-22, the trust made no money.

Every year during this period, the trust spent £11, apart from the period 2021-22 when it spent £10.

At March 31, 2010, the charity’s balance was £106,254 according to the council’s statement of accounts for the 2009-10 financial year.

Ten years later, the balance stood at £79,405. The latest statement of accounts shows the charity’s balance to be £81,032 at March 31, 2023.

The Charity Commission asked the council:

  • Did the charity have any reserves and if so how have these been used?
  • Does the charity have any income and does it receive any income from the leisure centre/velodrome?
  • What is the relationship with GLL and what are the terms of the lease which is in place?

The Charity Commission said the onus is on the council to provide the outstanding information requested in order for its land swap application to be processed.

Cardiff Council said it continues to engage fully and openly with the Charity Commission about Maindy Park Trust and a review of all trusts where the council acts as a trustee is ongoing.

Campaigners have been fighting to protect the historic Maindy Velodrome, where sporting stars like Geraint Thomas once trained, for years.

The Charity Commission also asks in its correspondence to the council, via legal advisors Geldards, for more information about when the local authority became aware that it was the sole trustee of Maindy Park Trust.

A section of the correspondence states: “We have been provided with a timeline of events and this seems to imply that the council was only aware that Maindy Park was held on trust in May 2022.

“However, we have already noted that the council has been submitting annual returns for the charity since 2005 at least.”

To negate its conflict of interest in making a decision on a land swap as the education authority and sole trustee of Maindy Park Trust, Cardiff Council set up an independent advisory committee in 2022.

After a number of meetings, the advisory committee eventually recommended that the council approve the proposed land swap.

Only cabinet members who had not had any previous involvement in the council’s development proposals for the Maindy Park land were allowed to make a decision on the recommendation and the proposal was approved in March 2023.

The Charity Commission has asked the council for more information about how the advisory committee was set up, the roles of individuals on the committee and who took the final cabinet decision.

A consultation was carried out on the proposed land swap with beneficiaries of Maindy Park, but the Charity Commission said it has not seen the considerations of the responses to understand how these have been factored into the charity’s decision making. 

Other questions the commission asked include:

  • Please can you provide more detail of how the responses from the consultation were considered by both the advisory committee and cabinet to take account of any relevant factors[?]
  • There is an allegation that the charity’s legal advisors are also advising on the school development – we need to know if this is the case
  • The charity is relying on the statutory power of sale to proceed and, where this is the case, there needs to be equal amenity value. Please can you provide further detail of how this has been assessed given some of the concerns raised about the replacement land[?]

A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “The council has provided answers to the questions raised by the Charity Commission and continues to engage fully and openly with the commission on Maindy Park Trust. We look forward to hearing the commission’s deliberations once it has considered our response.

“A review of all trusts where the council acts as a trustee is currently ongoing.

“This has been done with a view to ensuring that governance and financial arrangements are being managed correctly, and that trust land can be more easily identified by all officers, so that the potential for trust implications can be considered as soon as possible.

“In order to increase transparency, a cabinet report outlining new governance arrangements for when the council is making decisions as a trustee, is also due to be considered shortly.”

Cardiff Council confirmed in January that it is engaging with the UK Government’s property unit over the future of the Crown Way Companies House offices.

The site, which is next to Cathays High, could become available and is seen a potential alternative to the Maindy Park site for the school expansion.

A report into the council’s role as a corporate trustee will be discussed by the local authority’s policy review and performance scrutiny committee at a meeting on Wednesday, March 13.