It wasn’t us guv’ – honest!

In light of recent events, we thought an update prior to the Christmas festivities might be in order…

Some citizens were evicted on the morning of 15th December from the Elmhirst Building. Calling themselves ‘Community of Totnes’, we were contacted by them to declare “The community of Totnes has taken lawful possession of the buildings and grounds of the Elmhirst Building, and would like to offer WTF a permanent office on-site to better expand on and realise the community’s vision for the area.”. Which was nice.

We (Why This Field campaign) do not know any of this group and we discovered that they had been removed by bailiffs before we could find out any more. We will say that we neither condemn or approve.

HOWEVER:  The fact that a perfectly good building has been left to decay and rot by KEVICC in the first place – on purpose –, seems downright criminal.  That some citizens would take it on themselves to occupy the building demonstrates the strength of feeling many people have.  And the sense of wanting to do something in the face of powerlessness.    

But it’s not over yet…

What we do know however, is that the school playing field and the Elmhirst Building, both of which were in the charitable trust ownership of Dart Valley Learning Trust (DVLT), were transferred to Education South West (ESW) by Statutory Order of the Secretary of State for Education.  ESW are the new academy for Kevicc and have ownership of the school playing field and Elmhirst Building.  

But, as explained below, ESW are still not free to sell the land or building onward for private development and WTF are in discussions with the Department for Education to make sure it remains outside of the hands of private developers and will continue to benefit current and future generations of children.

The Protection of the Law

Original notice – not happening!

When a school wants to develop a school playing field and plots like the Elmhirst Building they have to get permission to do so from the Department of Education.  This is because Parliament decided that it was so important for educational green space to be protected for children that it decided to place statutory protection for such kinds of green space in law.  

This means that no school can decide by itself to just sell/dispose of such kind of land, it must apply and be granted statutory consent by the Secretary of State.  This applies as much to EWS as to KEVICC, now that the school field and Elmhirst Building are in its ownership.  

Not only that, the reasons by which the Secretary of State can consent to the disposal of land are itself restricted by law.  If the Secretary of State grants consent in a way that is not permitted by the relevant legislation, or is found to have acted in a way that breached their role as a charitable regulator of foundation schools, then the Secretary of State will have acted unlawfully.  

Our legal team have reminded the Secretary of State of their legal obligations and charitable duties and have recently had confirmation from the Department of Education that:

No consent to any disposal of land has been granted at this time.

This means that, whilst statutory permission was given to transfer the land from DVLT to ESW,  ESW are not yet allowed to sell the land onward for development.

Using the law to protect our “Right to Legal Remedy”

We separately discovered a request had been made to Companies House for DVLT to be dissolved.   If this happens, our “Right to Legal Remedy” against any irregularities by DVLT Trustees will be lost.  Our W.T.F. Legal Team wrote to the Registrar of Companies House setting out concerns that the “Right to Legal Remedy” would be lost if DVLT was dissolved prior to our concerns being resolved.   On the basis of the information given they have now agreed to stop the dissolution for 6 months (until 6 June 2023) .

The W.T.F. legal team have also made a request for specialist charity advice from charity law barristers to help resolve some of the key issues that correspondence with the DfE is helping narrow down (that specialist advice will be given on what is called a “pro bono” (free) basis and so takes longer than if W.T.F. had the financial resources to pay for such specialist advice).   

WTF’s legal team will continue discussions with the Department of Education about our concerns regarding irregularities by DVLT Trustees and we will update you with any more important information that comes from this.  

These achievements couldn’t have been made without your support and we appreciate the help, financial, moral and vocal that we have had from the townspeople of Totnes. The School & now the Academy can still raise the funding they are seeking through the other parcels of land and by selling the Elmhirst Building and lower field into the hands of Totnes Town Council and we urge them once again to please work with our town and with our community for the benefit of all.

We haven’t won our battle to protect the field and Elmhirst Building for the town yet and we still have a lot to do, but these are two significant ‘wins’ that have been achieved through dogged investigation and research that, in our view, show that KEVICC and DVLT have not acted in good faith towards their educational and charitable duties, nor towards their own originally stated promises to the community of Totnes when the school land was transferred to it from the County Council.

With our research showing a huge majority of the town want this area to be [protected as green space and] used for the benefit of it’s inhabitants and future generations, these are small but key steps forward of “right against (financial) might”, to prevent the credible risk of hideous commercial development ruining a vitally important green space for the area.

Seasons greetings and Thanks to everyone from the WTF team.

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