500 signatures reached
To: The Charity Commission
Protect Mapledurham Playing Fields
Mapledurham Playing Fields is a charitable trust (304328), like many others, bequeathed exclusively for recreation but targeted as the proposed site of a free school. We want the Charity Commission to honour the wishes of the benefactor, recognise the value of public open space and support the promotion of grass roots sport by rejecting the proposal. We believe this will serve as a valuable precedent to safeguard many other parks and playing fields.
Why is this important?
A Guardian article, published in June last year, estimated that sites for a further 500 free schools are required and that most will be playing fields. Recent National Audit Office criticism of the Education Funding Authority for overpaying for free school sites, will make playing fields an even more attractive cheap option. Although playing fields are usually protected from development by local authority planning policies, the EFA are exempt from these.
Mapledurham Playing Fields, a charitable trust bequeathed exclusively for recreation (Recreation Ground Charity #304328), is a case in point. This has been targeted by the EFA as the site of a free school. The trustee, Reading Borough Council (RBC), which is also the Local Education Authority responsible for meeting demand for school places, has given conditional approval to the plan. We, Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group who are concerned residents, have registered a claim of conflict of interest and asserted that an independent trustee should be appointed to adjudicate. Despite the merit of our case we are sanguine about our chance of success in the courts: although we have raised over £25,000 from private donations, to fight the case, we recognise that this will not be sufficient against the funds available to RBC.
We presented our case to the Charity Commission which said that this gave it cause for concern and would investigate. Sadly of all of the points in the 22 page witness statement, which summarises our case, it addressed only one. It has since said RBC has rectified this and it is satisfied that there are no outstanding unmanageable conflicts. We believe we now need to bring as much influence to bear on the Charity Commission, as possible, to ensure that it recognises its responsibility to protect playing fields within its estate, and we would like to use Mapledurham Playing Fields as a test case.
If you believe parks and playing fields should be protected and would like to add your voice in support of this test case please sign our petition.
How it will be delivered
We plan to present the petition to the Charity Commission in person