Bridge Park battle: Lawyers sum up with judgement ‘unlikely’ until September
PUBLISHED: 13:07 31 July 2020
A judge presiding over the battle for Bridge Park has retired to consider the evidence.
The nine-day trial at the High Court between claimant Brent Council and defendants Leonard Johnson and Stonebridge Community Trust (HPCC) Ltd (SCT) ended on Thursday.
Judge Michael Green QC heard the closing arguments by Katharine Holland QC, for Brent, and Stephen Cottle, Mr Johnson’s counsel, and said his judgement will come in September.
The fight is over the future of Bridge Park Leisure Centre, which is the subject of a conditional land sale agreement between Brent Council and General Mediterranean Holdings (GMH). The agreement, signed in 2017, would see the site in Brentfield Road redeveloped.
A London Transport bus depot was bought by the council, working in partnership with Harlesden People’s Community Council (HPCC) in 1982.
Mr Cottle argued that the community has a claim on the site and cited a pre-acquisition covenant, which said a grant given by the Greater London Council (GLC) had to be used for charitable purposes.
Brent Council had the covenant disposed of in 2013. Mr Cottle argued it should be the charity commission which decides whether the land should be sold .
He said Bridge Park, when the original purchase was made, was intended to be a community facility.
He invited the judge to look at the Recreational Charities Act of 1958, arguing it, along with other legislation, meant Brent Council acquired “charitable trust obligations”.
He said: “It doesn’t upset the apple cart. They still might get through with their conditional land sale agreement, it’s just that they need to get prior approval of the charity commission before they can - and it wasn’t right for them to sign it off as they did on the June 17, 2017.”
The judge said the 1958 act could have “potentially far-reaching effects” if it means facilities not currently considered by local authorities to be held on trust, are in fact “held on charitable trust”.
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Ms Holland said it showed “the paucity of evidence that they were forced to go to one particular covenant” before listing reasons why Johnson and STC, “a nonexistent entity”, had no credibility.
She said the covenant was not included in the sale transfers of the land, so it conferred no charitable trust status.
A constitution for HPCC in 1981 has yet to be provided to the court - something the judge said was “problematic”.
“In legal terms it’s important to know who’s the beneficiary of the alleged trust,” he added.
Of the second defendant, SCT, he asked: “Who are the shareholders of the second defendant, do we know?”
She said there were “quite a few entities in relation to this project”, including Bridge Park Charitable Trust, Bridge Park Community Trust, Harlesden People’s Community Trust, HPCC, Stonebridge Community Trust and Bridge Park Community BPCC - “yet another entity”.
There is currently a restriction with the Land Registry on the sale of the land and Ms Holland said the council was seeking an injunction to “restrain further applications to the Land Registry”.
She added: “The defendants have gone to some length to prevent the council from dealing with this property. We had a number of evidence and references from Mr Johnson that he was trying to prevent the sale.”
Mr Cottle objected, saying it was a “proverbial sledgehammer” and that Mr Johnson wanted the courts to settle the matter.
Asking for a judgement before September, Ms Holland said. “The council tried very hard to settle this matter. We have an obligation to dispose of this land to best consideration, which is what we’re proposing to do (..)
“The council regards it as completely respectful to the Bridge Park legacy.”
Judge Green said: “I hope the parties can continue to talk because I’m going to be deciding this on a purely legal basis whether there is a beneficial interest by someone other than Brent Council and I’m not sure if that judgement will resolve the problem or dispute that clearly appears to exist between the parties.
“I encourage the parties to continue to talk if that’s possible.”
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