Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens ‘risked assets’

Therfield Heath

Therfield Heath - Credit: Archant

The Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens have been criticised for “taking inappropriate risks with charity assets” – as calls for them to resign continue.

The Planning Inspectorate last month refused the application to deregister Royston heathland between Sun Hill and Briary Lane and swap it with land to the west of New Road in Therfield – the result of an eight-day inquiry which concluded in February.

During the inquiry, the conservators – who manage the heath and also operate as trustees of the Therfield Regulation Trust, which owns the site – gave evidence saying the possible £1.4 million raised from selling the land would be reinvested into running costs and sporting facilities.

When the plan’s refusal was announced, they said: “The losers here are all the users of the heath.”

Objector Clive Hall has now said that the conservators, as trustees, seemed to have risked charity assets and reputation.

He told the Crow: “The conservators tell us that ‘the losers here are all the users of the heath’ – and for once I agree with them.

“The Briary Lane scheme collapsed when an inspector on behalf of the Secretary of State considered the deregistration and exchange application and decided that on balance consent for the exchange should not be granted.

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“The heath is owned by the Therfield Regulation Trust, a charity, and the beneficiaries are the public. As with any charity, trustees must not take inappropriate risks with the charity’s assets or reputation – yet these trustees seem to me to have done just that.

“To date the trustees have declined to say how much was spent on their failed Briary Lane scheme, but rough cost estimates from project inception in 2005 to date suggest a figure of about £70,000 and potentially more.

“In context, that is a year’s income for the Therfield Regulation Trust and the conservators together – and they have absolutely nothing of worth to show for it.

“Not only has the money gone, but at risk too is the reputation of the charity. In any normal world, blowing over a year’s income for nothing would cause resignations, but these trustees just carry on.

“Rod Kennedy is right. We need a ‘Friends of the Therfield Heath’ more than ever. But I question if what is best for the heath can be delivered by those who blew so much of the charity’s money. Rod Kennedy’s friends group will be doomed if it is there to support those who were responsible.

“The losers here are all the users of the heath. It is time for an apology and resignations.”

Asked about costs, next steps and whether there would be resignations, the conservators’ clerk David Smith told the Crow: “We have a meeting next month when we will be producing a further statement for publication.”

The Charity Commission – a government body which regulates charities in England and Wales to ensure that the public can support charities with confidence – said it has not received complaints regarding risk to the Therfield Regulation Trust’s assets.

A charity commission spokeswoman said: “It is important that charity trustees can demonstrate that any expenses incurred have been fully considered in line with the best interests of the charity. We will consider any information provided regarding the Therfield Regulation Trust to assess whether there is a regulatory role for the commission.”