Charities go it alone after middle school and playing field development talks terminated

Halesworth Campus project

Halesworth Campus project - Credit: Nick Butcher

Years of discussion over the future of a middle school site and playing field have ended in acrimony after relationships between custodians of the land broke down.

Suffolk county councillor for HalesworthTony Goldson.

Suffolk county councillor for HalesworthTony Goldson. - Credit: Nick Butcher

In 2012, people in Halesworth backed plans to sell Dairy Hill Playing Field to pay for a new sports and skills centre on land vacated by the closure of Halesworth Middle School.

Health facilities were to be built on the playing field site and provided by Castlemeadow Care – replacing some outpatient services at Patrick Stead Hospital.

However, Halesworth Playing Fields Association (HPFA) has now severed ties with the Halesworth Campus group, amid accusations of broken promises, monopolisation of funding, and use of its land as surety for a loan – accusations denied by Halesworth Campus, which said the HPFA's reasons for terminating were 'unclear, invalid, and can be refuted'.

The HPFA said Halesworth Campus demanded all money from the sale of Dairy Hill for phase one of the middle school project – which, it said, cost more than the expected revenue and would not provide facilities for all of its affiliated sports clubs.

Halesworth Campus said its preferred operator, Sentinel, had warned the project must be phased, and would only be affordable through other revenue generators, such as an artificial pitch, which the HPFA claimed was not a priority.

HPFA said facilities would be further reduced by Halesworth Campus factoring in VAT. But, Halesworth Campus argued that tax negotiations were still ongoing – and that it had a 'very good case' for VAT exemption – when HPFA chose to terminate.

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Meanwhile, HPFA said Halesworth Campus 'reneged' on an understanding to mutually dissolve and reform as one charity – a claim Halesworth Campus also denied, saying its lawyer recommended it remain a potentially enforceable 'shell charity' or friends group, but that it had then gone against advice and agreed to dissolve entirely – by which time, HPFA had voted to cease negotiations.

It was also claimed that, without written agreement, Halesworth Campus used HPFA's land as surety for an £85,000 loan from Suffolk County Council.

Again, Halesworth Campus denied the claim, saying HPFA had agreed for the loan to be spent on relocating a football pitch, and to be repaid with money from sale of the land.

Both sides have vowed to continue alone – with HPFA seeking to improve sports facilities on its land, while Halesworth Campus discusses developing the middle school site.

Halesworth Campus chairman and county council health chief, Tony Goldson said: 'I believe the trustees of the HPFA, including those nominated by the town council to sit the HPFA board, have badly let down local people who voted for and support this major project, and the long-lasting benefits it promises for the community.

'I call on everyone now to back the revised project and to make sure that it succeeds.'

HPFA's David Thomas said: 'We have all had sleepless nights making sure this would be done properly.

'We have been extremely keen and worked extremely hard to abide by the objects of our trust.

'Halesworth Campus demanded that, unless the money be used as they saw fit, they would withdraw. The matter of the loan destroyed any trust.'

Castlemeadow Care said it was disappointed not to be working with HPFA, but was committed to the new project with Halesworth Campus and Halesworth Health. Managing director Dr Sanjay Kaushal said he had every confidence the new partnership will now be able carry the project forward to a successful conclusion.

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