Allotment Holders – Lean On Your Spade and Think On the Legal Position

Few people who enjoy planting cabbages on allotments are aware that their plots are very likely to be of great antiquity and to be held on charitable trust for the public benefit. Two such trusts came under analysis in a High Court case in which managerial control over allotments dating back to the Victorian era was hotly contested.

Two neighbouring plots of land were in 1861 the subject of awards made under the Inclosure Act 1845 and were allotted for the public benefit. They were entrusted to the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor in the relevant parish and each plot was subject to a separate charitable trust. One plot was dedicated as a place of exercise and recreation for local inhabitants and the other for the benefit of the parish’s labouring poor.

The local parish council was established by the Local Government Act 1894. It simultaneously took over the role of the Churchwardens and Overseers and became sole trustee of the charities. In modern times, however, the plots had been the focus of a dispute concerning their past and future management.

The issue in the case was the identity of the current trustee or trustees of the charities. The council argued that it had never relinquished its role as sole trustee. However, a number of its members and former members asserted that they had been validly appointed as trustees by the council itself and that they, rather than the council, were empowered to make decisions relating to the plots.

The Court noted that the case revealed an apparent conflict between provisions of the 1894 Act and the Charities Act 2011. The former appeared to have the effect of confirming the council’s role as sole trustee. The latter, however, appeared to recognise as trustees those who were appointed as such by the council.

On a true reading of the relevant provisions, the Court found that the council had the power to appoint other trustees in its place. However, such appointments lasted a maximum of four years and appointees had no power either to extend their own terms of office or to appoint further trustees. Employing those principles, the Court identified six individuals as the charities’ current trustees.

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