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The Recreation Ground ("the Rec") is a large open space in the centre of Bathmarker, Englandmarker, next to the River Avon, used for recreational purposes by Bath residents and the public generally. The Recreation Ground, Bath - a statement under the Charities Act, Charity Commission, 22/8/2007

About a quarter of the Rec is leased to Bath Rugby during the rugby union season as a sports ground capable of holding 10,600 people. During the summer the rugby ground's temporary East Stand is removed to make way for cricket on the larger pitch to the easternmost end of the Rec. This cricket pitch is used for local contests and by the Somerset County Cricket Club for two matches a year. Other parts of the eastern area are used by Bath Hockey Club and there are also tennis courts. There is a cricket pavilion at the William Street entrance to the ground.

In former years the Rec was subject to periodic flooding from the River Avon, but a flood alleviation scheme in the 1960s improved the flow of the river, although the Rec remains part of the floodplain at risk of occasional flooding. The ground can still get very boggy after heavy rains.

Charitable Trust status

The Rec is operated by Bath and North East Somerset Council. However the exact legal status was unclear until July 2002, when the High Courtmarker determined that the Rec was held on charitable trusts and the council, as sole Trustee, was charged with maintaining the Rec as an "open space" and "as a recreational facility available for the benefit of the public at large." High Court Judgement, Case HC 01012125, Citation No: [2002] EWCA 1623 (Ch), 31/7/2002 The terms of the trust specify the Rec should be used for "games and sports of all kinds, tournaments, fetes, shows, exhibitions, displays, amusements, entertainments, or other activities of a like character" and there be no "undue preference to or in favour of any particular game or sport". The trust registered as a charity in November 2002.

As a result of the court’s determination, Bath Rugby's use of the Rec for professional rugby was inconsistent with the trusts of the Charity. Since then the Charity Commission has made annual orders authorising the charity to continue the lease to the rugby club of additional land required for premiership rugby while a permanent solution is sought. Charity Commission Case No: 607825, Charity Commission, 20 July 2007 The Recreation Ground, Bath - Decision Review, Charity Commission, 19 July 2007 Bath Rugby hold a long running lease to the ground of the old "Flowerpot Stand", but this is not sufficient for professional rugby.

In 1975 Bath City Council, the predecessor council, built a Sports and Leisure Centre and car park on the south side of the Rec after taking legal advice that this was consistent with the trust obligations. However following the 2002 High Court determination, the Charity Commission decided this was a breach of trust by the council as Trustee. In 2005 the council renewed Bath Rugby's temporary lease without the necessary prior consent from the Charity Commission. Consequently in February 2007 the Charity Commission made a protective order vesting all of the Rec in the Official Custodian for Charities while the council conducts a delayed strategic review, and new plans are agreed and implemented.

Future of the professional rugby venue

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) have stated that by 2010 all Guinness Premiership rugby clubs will need a spectator capacity of at least 15,000; the Rec's current capacity is 10,600.

As a result, Bath Rugby's chief executive Bob Calleja wants to know if the club can develop the Recreation Ground. A strategic review of the future of the venue was started in October 2006. Calleja told the Western Mail: "We would like an amber light to be able to proceed by February 2007. We would clearly put our focus on staying at and developing the Rec, but if that was impossible and we were forced to move, then the other options would become serious considerations. But don't mention Swindonmarker or Bristolmarker or Timbuktumarker, because we have no intention of Bath Rugby playing anywhere but Bath." In March 2007 the trustees of the Rec received the Independent Report of the Strategic Review showing support for the development of the ground by 64% of respondents to a poll (44% supporting development on the current site of the ground).

After Bath's defeat in the European Challenge Cup, their fourth final defeat since 1998, captain Steve Borthwick made an impassioned plea for the management to show the same ambition as the players. Chief executive Bob Calleja issued an immediate response that the management were matching the players ambitions - that money was available for recruitment and that development of the training facilities and Recreation Ground was being delayed by politics. Following this, rumours of a takeover involving Mark Jackson, a local businessman, have surfaced, but eventually came to nothing, but Simon Halliday re-joined the Club as a Non Executive Director in 2007. Andrew Brownsword's investment in the club is said to be £5m.

New Trustees were appointed for the Rec and they immediately agreed at their meeting (6 June 2007) to put forward the proposal of the Strategic Review accepting option 2 "Variations to the current use (Keep the Rugby Club on the Rec and enlarge the footprint of the existing lease with the additional land requested by the Club as well as keeping the leisure centre on the Rec)". The Charity Commission responded in their letter to the Trustees of 6 March 2008 Charity Commission Letter which states "For the Commission to consider if it can lawfully exercise its powers in considering the Trust Board's request to have power to grant a lease of further additional land to Bath Rugby Club ('the Club'), we need to be fully satisfied that any detriment arising to the charity from the proposed is significantly outweighed by all the benefits that the Rec will receive. If it is not for the benefit of the charity, legally, we cannot proceed further."

The new Trustees have been working with the Club and the Charity Commission to resolve the issue of the Club providing more benefits to the Charity than the detriment of releasing yet more land to the Club bringing their use of the Rec to about 29% and allowing a capacity of 15,000. In July 2008 there was another meeting of the Trustees but their proposals to the Charity Commission to allow the Club to expand or not was discussed in private. The submission was made (1 August 2008) to the Charity Commission on the Option 2 proposal (additional land for the Rugby Club to increase its capacity). However, the Trustees had put forward the proposals in draft form as they were still in negotiation with the Rugby Club. The Charity Commission have to conduct legal tests on the additional benefits that may be derived from the Club over the detriments of granting the Club more charitable land. The Club wants to ensure that capacity for a 20,000 arena will be allowed in principal in the future should they need it. Meanwhile the Club is keeping its options open on three sites within 5 miles of Bath, according to Bob Calleja the CEO, should agreement not be reached.

A recent development was the Chairman of Bath City Football Club Geoff Todd stated that "the club has held talks with Bath Rugby over a possible ground-share at The Rec" (Bath Chronicle 21 August 2008).

The Charity Commission had rejected the Rec Trustees and the Rugby Club's proposal for use of the Charitable Land and the Trustees of the Rec explained that they are going to challenge the Charity Commission on some of the detriments listed by the CC. However this process has to be presented by 9 April 2009.

In June 2009 the Charity Commission again granted permission for the club to continue to use temporary spectator seating on charity land for the 2009/2010 season which together with changes to other seating allowed capacity to increase to 11,700.

Land "Swap" proposal

At the meeting of the Rec Trustees on 24 March 2009 another proposal has been put forward to assuage the detriments in order to satisfy the Charity Commission to allow the Rugby Club to develop the arena at the Recreation Ground. The proposal came in a statement from Peter Downey, Chairman of the Real Friends of the Rec, that a land swap be considered in that part of the Training Ground at Lambridge be offered to the Trust in compensation for the extra land the Rugby Club wants.

Chris Watt, Chairman of the Rec Trustees, made this comment on the land swap idea:
The contribution that such a scheme could make would be very significant in the tipping of the scales.
The core detriment is created by the land available to the trust being lost.
The opportunities to replace that with land of the equivalent value, size and scale would be more significant than any other benefits either directly from the rugby club or via third parties.
We have had useful discussions with the rugby club about the basis by which detriments could be reduced and we have to proceed on that basis.


Bath & North East Somerset Council have issued a press release that they are prepared to transfer land that they own in the Combe Down area of Bath to assuage the detriments that the Charity Commission have placed on the Rugby Ground. This would mean that Bath Rugby will be able to continue as a professional rugby club on the Rec and, subject to planning permission, enhance the arena. The Bath Chronicle hailed this news with a headline "Big boost for Bath Rugby as Rec impasse seems broken"

Bob Calleja has stated that the Club look forward to discussions on the land transfer proposal which they find encouraging.

The Charity Commission stated that it sees potential in the land "swap" idea and have asked the Trustees to send in detailed proposals by 1st August 2009.

Real Friends of the Rec

A local interest group called the Real Friends of the Rec was formed in December 2008 to lobby for the building of an all purpose sports and cultural arena at the Rec. Their objectives are set out on their website linked below. They hope to encourage Somerset County Cricket Club, in addition to other spectator sports and other events to utilise a new stadium throughout the year. This will not only produce much needed funds for the Charity but will ensure all year round use of this under-utilised space. It is reported that the group have requested a meeting of the interested parties. Usage stats.

The recent development for land swap has been lobbied for by the Real Friends since the idea was raised at the inaugural meeting of the group in January 2009. The Real Friends believe that this is a tremendous breakthrough in the deadlock and have issued a statement to this effect on their website

The Real Friends attended the meeting at Combe Down to discuss the land "swap" deal for Firs Field and one of their Combe Down residents was very positive about the outcome of the swap and described it as a "win win" situation.

Friends of Bath Recreation Ground

A group that maintain that the Rec should not be used for professional money-making sport, and that the council's actions in this matter have been dubious for many years. They threaten to take legal action should the Trust, Bath Rugby and the Charity Commission reach an agreement to allow development on the Rec. Their membership and funding is unknown.

References

  1. Hopes grow for rugby at Rec, Bath Chronicle, 24 August 2007
  2. Rec Development, Bath Rugby, September/October 2006
  3. The Bath Recreation Ground Trust - A Strategic Review, 30 May 2007
  4. Commission castigates council over land use, Andy Ricketts, Third Sector, 24 August 2007
  5. Bath seek answers on stadium plan, BBC, 14 September 2006. Last accessed 11 November, 2006.
  6. Board supports latest rec survey, BBC, 24 March 2007. Last accessed 21 April, 2007.
  7. Robinson and Halliday in the frame for Bath return - Rugby Union, Rugby - Independent.co.uk
  8. Rec's future decided by end of February, Chris Hewett, The Independent, 12 January 2009
  9. Rec rethink requested Bath Chronicle 29th January 2009
  10. Statement from Bob Calleja, Bath Rugby, 28 January 2009
  11. Statement from Peter Downey, Chairman RFotR, 24 March 2009
  12. Press release on 15th April, B&NES Council
  13. Bath Chronicle, Article 15th April 2009
  14. Bath Rugby Statement, 16 April 2009
  15. Meeting of interested parties calledBath Chronicle 30th January 2009
  16. 35% of the Rec is used by other sports!
  17. Real Friends Statement15 April 2009
  18. Feedback from Combe Down Residents Meeting re Firs Field 29 June 2009
  19. No place like home, Peter Wilby, The Observer, 4 March 2007
  20. Statement by Vice Chairman Friends of Bath Recreation Ground to The Trustees on 28th January 2009


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