Complaints made to Charity Commission over Derbyshire County Council's handling of listed Chesterfield building Hurst House
Charity bosses have been urged to act over the “failure” of Derbyshire County Council regarding a Chesterfield building.
The council is the sole trustee of Chesterfield Schools Foundation, owner of Hurst House, a Grade II-listed building on Abercrombie Street.
Chesterfield & District Civic Society has repeatedly urged the council to sell the building and “invest the proceeds for the benefit of the charity”.
However, when the building was put up for sale in 2018, no buyer could be found, and it was not offered at auction, despite the council suggesting that could happen – and it again failed to sell last year.
Now Philip Riden society chairman, has lodged a complaint with the Charity Commission over the “failure of the council to act properly as the sole trustee of a major Chesterfield charity” and the commission’s own failure to take action.
In a letter to Ian Karet, commission interim chairman, Mr Riden said: “In recent years, I have complained to the commission on several occasions alleging breaches of trust by the council as sole trustee.”
Regarding the failure to offer the property for auction in 2018, Mr Riden said: “I consider this a further breach of trust by the council, in that it failed to act in the best interests of the charity. Its conduct falls short of what a reasonably competent trustee would have done.”
In April 2020, the council resolved to transfer its trusteeship of CSF to Foundation Derbyshire, which manages several Derbyshire charities.
Mr Riden said: “The council has since then failed to effect the transfer. I consider this a breach of trust, since a reasonably competent trustee would have completed the transfer by now.
“The practical result of the council’s failure to make this transfer, as far as Hurst House is concerned, is the property remains a ‘building at risk’ in the eyes of the local planning authority and the Civic Society.
“Apart from possible deterioration as a result of weather damage, it is vulnerable to vandalism, including arson. I consider the council’s failure to safeguard Hurst House, by not achieving its sale as soon as possible, to be a further breach of trust. A reasonably competent trustee would have sold the property several years ago, as soon as it became clear it could not be re-let.”
A commission spokesman confirmed Mr Riden’s complaint was being investigated.
He said: “We are aware of a complaint made by the trustees of the Chesterfield and District Civic Society.
“We take all complaints about our work seriously and are handling this complaint in line with our published complaints procedure. We cannot comment further while that process is under way, to avoid prejudicing or compromising that work.”
A council spokesman said: “The council’s cabinet made the decision at its meeting on April 23, 2020, to transfer the property to Foundation Derbyshire, along with the other assets of the charity. The transfer is well under way and it is hoped it will be completed soon.
“The council is therefore not in a position to put the property back on the market.”
Foundation Derbyshire declined to comment, although Rachael Grime, chief executive, previously said it was waiting for the transfer to be completed and then would “review options to secure its future”.