Sunday 8 February 2015

Remit of Mapledurham Playing Fields Management Committee

To aid an informed debate about one of the sites about to be consulted upon as a possible permanent location for The Heights Primary Free School, I quote below Chris Brooks, Reading Borough Council's (RBC's) head of legal, statement on the remit of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management Committee [the Management Committee] and the legal advice to which I (and my two fellow councillors elected to sit on it with me) have adhered.

Mr Brooks states that: 
"The Council’s appointees to the Management Committee are not appointed to represent the Council as Trustee, or to act as Trustee. They are appointed to act within the duties and powers of the Management Committee...
"The Council as trustee has authorised the Management Committee to exercise a general supervision over the day-to-day activities at the playing fields to ensure that this is consistent with the objectives of the Trust, which are the provision and maintenance of a recreation ground for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Parish of Mapledurham and the Borough of Reading without distinction of political, religious or other opinions."
At the Management Committee meeting on 2 December, a statement was tabled which the Committee were asked to approve.  It included the following paragraph:
“In exercising [its] responsibilities this Committee has rejected, and will continue to reject any proposals or discussions concerning the Mapledurham Playing Fields that do not uphold and maintain the specific objects of the said Trust; eg a school is not within these specific objects".
Mr Brooks, who was in attendance, explained that the paragraph was effectively asking the three Councillors to make a statement as a Trustee, which was not in the remit of the Management Committee.  

The outcome of the discussion at the Management Committee was subsequently and inaccurately described to User Groups and others as "the three Councillors do not agree in maintaining the charitable status of the Playing Fields and the pavilion."  User Groups alerted me to this and the following is an extract from Mr Brooks' response: 
"In conclusion, I vehemently disagree with your arguments, which I consider at best to be based on a misunderstanding on your part of the role of the Management Committee, the responsibilities of the Council as Trustee, and the public law expectations of the role of Councillors in a local authority’s decision-making process.   However, I would observe that your actions in moving the statement at the Management Committee on 2 December 2014, and writing subsequently to the users committee, could be seen as a deliberate act to compromise or emasculate the three Council appointees to the Management Committee in their roles as Councillors of the authority.

"I strongly suggest that you share this email with all of the users committee to ensure that they have my very clear factual position on the matters you have raised with them."
You can read the whole of Mr Brooks' email here