Putney Common Access Row Flares Up Again

Charity Commission step in after 'an irretrievable loss of trust'

The dispute over the alleged undervaluation of access rights on Putney Common to allow a school to be built has reached new intensity following the publication of valuation that it is claimed showed the true value was £1,900,000.

The differences of opinions on the board of the Conservators of Wimbledon and Putney Commons have become so entrenched that the Charity Commission has been invited in to take over the running of the organisation until the issue can be resolved.

Board member, Nicholas Evans, who was elected earlier this year stated that, 'The board of Conservators of Wimbledon and Putney Commons has received a retrospective Qualified Surveyors Report prepared by Montagu Evans LLP which gives a valuation of the access at Putney Hospital in February 2012 of £1,900,000.'

This would imply that the charity made a loss of £1.5million on the sale of access rights when they were purchased by Wandsworth Borough Council.

However, this valuation has been dismissed by Simon Lee, the Chief Executive of Wimbledon
and Putney Commons. He said, 'Late on Friday 11th September 2015, it came to light that at least two Trustees of the Charity had commissioned their own valuation report without reference to the Board. Without knowing the basis of the instructions on which this report was based, and how these instructions relate to those drawn up in accordance with the Board Resolution of 11th May on the basis of the advice available at that time, it is not possible to comment on the figure that has been reported.'

Mr Lee says that due to the publication of the valuation, combined with 'potentially defamatory postings on a web site', it was necessary to postpone the routine Board meeting planned to take place on Monday 14th September 2015 and of the General Open Meeting planned for 28th September 2015.

Mr Lee told PutneySW15.com that at the Board meeting on 11th May 2015, 'it was unanimously agreed to commission a fresh, competent and senior firm of charity lawyers to conduct an independent review of the process by which the sum paid to Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators (the Trustees of the Charity) for the easement to permit the development of the former Putney Hospital site was determined, and to advise on whether the process had met the requirements of charity law.'

The original valuation was made in 2012 but was not executed until August 2014 as matters were delayed by a Judicial Review and a High Court Appeal instigated by the Friends of Putney Common of whom Nicholas Evans was a prominent member.

Draft terms of reference were drawn up by the Conservators for the appointment of RICS surveyors to conduct a new valuation. According to Mr Lee, a minority of board members did not support the terms of reference or the surveyors recommended by the charity's lawyers. Having reached an impasse, the matter was referred to the Charity Commission who advised mediation. A paper was to be presented to the September 2015 Board meeting to progress this.

Mr Evans has described Mr Lee's claims about the nature of the valuation as 'seriously misleading and inaccurate'. He says that the valuation by Montagu Evans was commissioned by 'a majority of the WPCC Audit and Risk Committee'. He stated that the charity did not follow sections 17-21 of the Charities Act and he alleged that some of the Board members have been trying to cover-up a very serious breach of law which led to the loss.

As a result of the dispute and what Mr Lee describes as 'an irretrievable loss of trust between the members, and between some members and the executive' it was decided that the Board could no longer function effectively and the Charity Commission was formally invited to step in.

Mr Lee said, 'Referral to the Charity Commission is the only way in which the “best interests of the Charity” can be served, otherwise further resources will be expended on an issue which has already cost well over £100,000 of Levy-payers money in legal fees.'

September 16, 2015