Look out for charitable trusts

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Imagine the scene: a sale of a small piece of council land to a developer enables a major town centre regeneration to proceed, bringing jobs to the town centre. Definitely a good news story for the council. But what if the whole development is delayed for nearly a decade because the land was held by the council on charitable trusts and the disposal was challenged? Not such a good news story then, but this is exactly what happened in Dartford.

Land was given to Dartford Borough Council by Colonel Charles Newman Kidd in 1903 ‘to be appropriated and used in perpetuity as a public recreation ground and for no other purpose whatsoever’. In June 2004, the successor council, despite specific concerns raised by local residents, exchanged contracts for the sale of some of that land for development. Those concerned residents referred the issue to the Charity Commission. After many drawn-out hearings and appeals, the last point was settled only in May 2012.

Charitable trusts can often be difficult to spot. Here are a few danger signals for property lawyers in local authorities to look out for…

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