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Westway Development Trust

The Sunday Times

Notting Hell

After a short battle with cancer and a longer struggle with the trust, Mrs Kelly died on February 1. And she didn't get a quiet old age. She told me how she ventured out in her nightie onto the walkway at the front of her flat and pleaded with Subterania's customers to let the neighbourhood sleep. "It's the cars' nose, the language, the arguments," she explained. "It's really terrible, really bad."

She had campaigned since 1994, when the charity applied for a 6am licence for the club, and in October she led a dozen people to West London Magistrates Court to resist an appeal by the charity against a council order to cut the opening hours. She won that battle, after a two-day hearing, when District Judge Terry English awarded £13,000 costs against the charity on the grounds of its "unreasonableness". The trust's swift response to keep the extra hour for Power's business was to appeal the appeal - to Blackfriar's Crown Court (in an action now abandoned) - despite Judge English hearing from an angry witness parade of the very people the charity was meant to help.

But if all this wasn't bad enough, I soon found another story that said even more about this "charity". For not only was the nightclub wrecking the community's peace, but since the trust handed over the old community hall to Power, it had been running a scheme to dodge business rates and licence fees, to the public's considerable loss. People such as Mrs Kelly were not only suffering, they were also paying for the privilege.

According to my calculations, based on council staff figures, at least £118,000 due to the council on the nightclub has, for reasons unknown, been avoided. Power was the beneficiary, although all he seems to have done is accept the trust's arrangements. The way it worked was simple: Matland told council officers that the premises (merely described as "12 Acklam Road") were mainly used by charitable community groups - and for years the paperwork was rubber-stamped by unwitting junior clerks.

Strangely, Gordon - who lives in a Georgian square two miles south - told me he didn't personally know what was at "12 Acklam Road", but was sure that council staff knew all about Subterania. This is in spite of the trust failing to mention the premises in annual reports and of council officers having been in a five-year battle to get the charity to set out the facts about the club. Although senior Conservatives - including mayors, committee chairs and deputy leaders - had sat on the trust's management committee, a mass of paperwork reveals that council officers were repeatedly frustrated or fed with half-truths.

Matland, meanwhile, was filling-in exemption claims in an attempt to cover his tracks. In at least four documents, he certified that the club's licensed use "will be solely for entertainment which is of an educational or other like character, or is given for charitable or other like purpose." When asked of the premises (100% of the profits from which go to Mean Fiddler) "Who will receive the proceeds of these functions?", Matland replied: "North Kensington Amenity Trust." Asked, "Are the premises ever rented out to a third party for any public or private events? If yes, does the third party receive the profits from the event?", Matland's answer was: "Yes. Local charities. Yes. Local charities."

The thinking behind these answers was never squarely explained, but the loss of income as a result of this mysterious wheeze is only one example of how the public purse has lost out to the charity's operations. After an intervention by the Prince of Wales with the transport department, for instance, the land around the Westway - some prime Notting Hill brownfield - was handed to the trust at a paltry £10,800 an acre, obscuring comparison between the value of its assets and any good work it does.

And what of its good work? Undoubtedly there had been some, as both Matland and Judge Gordon stress. It maintains a small garden near the trust's offices, last year distributed £85,000 to local beneficiaries and spent a notional £76,000 subsidising the rent of non-commercial tenants. There may also be some "trickle-down" if users of its luxury facilities spend money in local shops and pubs.

But since 1989 it has relied on loans and grants from other charities and funding bodies (the latest is £8m from Sport England Lottery Fund) to prop up a leisure empire that is otherwise sustaining colossal deficits. Nearly £1.2m has been lost running the fitness club (despite a £400,000 sports lottery refurbishment grant), another £500,000 on the indoor tennis club, and it spent an estimated £500,000 from the City Challenge urban regeneration scheme [earmarked in plans for an employment centre] building the cocktail bar - also leased to Mean Fiddler. With staff costs running at £1m a year, it's hardly a balance sheet that glows with financial control. Were it a public company, its board would most likely have been fired.

*****

Westway Development Trust
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