Locals file complaint to Archbishop over neglected properties

The South Croydon Community Association, a group of concerned residents and businesses in the South End area, has lodged a formal complaint with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Charity Commission about the Whitgift Foundation’s management of its estimated £90-million property portfolio, claiming that many buildings in their area have been neglected.

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Several Victorian-built terraced properties owned by the Foundation on Selsdon Road have stood empty and unmaintained for months on end, some even longer according to anecdotal reports.

The SCCA was formed earlier this year in response to the perceived decline in their neighbour- hood, and the decision of the Whitgift Foundation to allow Tesco to take over the landmark Swan & Sugarloaf pub for one of its Express stores, a move publicly opposed by Steve O’Connell, the London Assembly Member for Sutton and Croydon.

The association’s latest meeting, on Sunday, was attended by Conservative councillors  – Vidhi Mohan, Simon Hoar and Michael Neal – from three adjoining wards. They heard widespread discontent about the manner in which the Foundation had allowed its properties to become run-down, without the council taking any enforcement action when buildings have been left vacant for six months or more.

It is 16 years since the village-like area of Selsdon Road was designated by the council as a Local Area of Special Character, with the Swan & Sugarloaf at its centre.

Even then, there was an awareness of the threats to the preservation of the area: “The Swan and Sugar Loaf was designed to stand out from its background, its preservation is of great importance to the appearance of the surrounding area. Ledbury Terrace is very attractive above fascia level but commercial pressures mean that shops are particularly vulnerable to inappropriate change,” the council said in 1996.

Also on the agenda at the meeting were problems with parking, unswept streets and rubbish, drunks hanging around in St Peter’s churchyard, and the vacant Folly pub were also on the agenda, with residents making plans to form work parties to help clean and re-paint shop fronts for those independent shop-keepers who want to freshen up their kerb appeal.

The association’s chair, Charlotte Davies, lodged the following letter with the Foundation’s trustees last week and copied the complaint with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Charity Commission.

Davies and several local businesses contend that by not maintaining its properties, the Foundation is failing in its duty to achieve maximum value and revenues from its properties.

This also has a negative impact on the area generally, adversely affecting the independent traders’ businesses, the shopkeepers say.

The Foundation’s income is used to run homes and several private schools in the borough.

As if by magic, three official-looking suits were observed on Monday inspecting at least two of the neglected buildings, while Stiles Harold Williams, the Foundation’s management agents, has also been in contact with SCCA in the past week.

This is the text of the letter which has caught the Foundation’s attention:

Following the Foundation’s response to the residents’ concerns regarding the letting of the Swan and Sugarloaf Public House to Tesco Plc, we have looked further into the management of the Whitgift Foundation property portfolio as it affects our local environment and are very concerned by what we find.

In particular we would like to raise the following issues with the Trustees of the Whitgift Foundation as we believe that each and every one of you is personally responsible for the good management of the Trusts’ assets, and in the following areas we are very concerned:

1. Whitgift Foundation properties are badly managed and run down, thus there is not good management of the property portfolio of the Trust by the Trustees; they cannot possibly be maximising their investment return by keeping their properties in a run-down dilapidated state for years.
2. There does not appear to be any regular retendering of the property management role in the Whitgift Foundation. Best practice would suggest that this type of job should be put up for tender every 3 to 5 years; and should be split between several providers, given the size of the portfolio. Investment property portfolio valuation as at 31 August 2011 £91,483,615. Currently the whole portfolio seems to be managed by the property agents: Stiles Harold Williams Ltd.
3. The Whitgift Foundation do not appear to have Trustees with the experience to manage property matters and appear to be dependent on, and always follow the advice of Richard Stapleton, Chairman, Stiles Harold Williams, including representing the Foundation to the Council on important committees such as the Mid-Croydon Master Plan Project Board. This appears to place Richard Stapleton in the role of “shadow director” of the Whitgift Foundation, including representing the Foundation to the Council on important committees, such as, the Mid-Croydon Master Plan Project Board. A shadow director is effectively a person who occupies the position of a director, regardless of whether he is officially named or identified as a director. Given that the Whitgift Foundation is a charitable Trust it would seem inappropriate that Richard Stapleton should appear to be both a shadow director; and that his company, Stiles Harold Williams, appear to year on year be earning a significant sum from the Foundation.
4. The Whitgift Foundation is a medium sized property investment business by National standards. In relation to the Croydon micro-economy it is in a dominant market position. Yet the Trustees through the Clerk to the Governors expressed a belief that they have no duty to consult with the local community on any of their property decisions (Croydon Advertiser 29th June 2012). This does not seem to be in the spirit of good corporate social responsibility that would be expected of any other monopoly provider.

Action we would like to be taken:
1. We would like the Trust to work with an outside adviser, such as the Charities Commissioners to make their property management more professional in appearance and in substance;
2. We would like Whitgift Foundation to communicate more actively and effectively with the local Croydon residents to ensure that their property management more closely reflects and promotes cohesive community relations, in terms of: varied, thriving local businesses; clean residential units, in a good state of repair; and a vision for shared community spaces that does not generate traffic issues.

I trust that you would not wish to live near your dilapidated properties for years any more than we the residents of South Croydon do, and that your sense of decency will make you look critically at the whole property management issue in the Whitgift Foundation.

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