Last Thursday Derby City Council Planning committee followed officer advice and granted planning permission to change the use of the Sinfin Moor Social Club from a ‘social club’ to a ‘place of worship and community hub’. This was not a request from the owner of the building, nor the people running the club, but a third party – Sarbat Da Bhalla Charitable Foundation Trust.
Who is Sarbat Da Bhalla Charitable Foundation Trust?
It is not clear…
The only charity bearing that name in the UK, is based in Leamington Spa, and had income last year of just over £1000. Its charitable aims are stated as
“… To provide free primary education to those children from poorer backgrounds within rural India. We believe through education and opportunity we can break down social barriers and bring the real change needed to transform the lives of many”
There is an overseas operation based in Dubai, with a similar name:
“Sarbat Da Bhala Charitable Trust is dedicated to social-economic transformation of rural and remote areas of India, especially the weaker and socially underprivileged groups, through physical, social, cultural and economic development of rural people, groups and institutions.”
Both are dedicated to helping people in rural India not Sinfin.
According to the Planning statement submitted in August 2019
“The Sarbat Da Bhalla Charitable Foundation Trust promotes the well-being of all human beings, all living creatures and of the planets natural resources.”
A unusually wide scope for an “invisible” charitable organisation. This should have raised questions.
Who owns what?
The land is owned by Derby City Council. The 99 year lease was sold to Why Not (UK) Ltd on 20 June 2014 for £150,000. The lease expires in 2075. The money to buy it was borrowed from Barclays Bank in 2014 who have a mortgage (fixed charge) over the lease. Should Why Not (UK) Ltd default then the bank would sell the lease to recoup the outstanding amounts.
Why Not (UK) Ltd is registered as having 1 Director and 1 shareholder – Kuldeep Singh Tatla. Since Sep 2019, Sanjeev Chopra is registered as a “person with significant control” but no details have been published as to how that control is exercised.
What are the terms of the lease?
The lease is very specific in that the lessee must
“….use the premises for the purposes of a Community Centre for the benefit of the residents of the Sinfin Area…..but not for any other purposes whatsoever PROVIDED that this restriction shall not prevent the premises being licenced or registered and used for the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquors upon the premises and being used as a Member’s Social Club”
Whilst the planning rules are comfortable with changing the use of the buildings , the terms of the lease are clear – it must be a Social Club, and it must not be prevented from selling alcohol. A position inconsistent with being a Sikh Gurdwara.
Can the terms of the lease be changed?
Derby City Council, as the landlord, could change the terms if requested by the lessee – Why Not (UK) Ltd. However as it didn’t make the request for change of use, then there is no reason for them to do that.
One could take the view that the planning decision is irrelevant as it found in favour of an applicant who has no rights to the land or the buildings. On the surface, the application was pointless…so why do it?
There are a few connections that start joining the dots.
The actual applicant is, allegedly, ex-Sinfin Labour Councillor ( who subsequently stood for the Conservatives in Oakwood) Hardial Dhamrait and relative of Kuldeep Tatla, the lessee of the Sinfin Moor Social Club. Mr Dhamrait was known to have visited the Leader of Derby City Council, Cllr Chris Poulter, in late October, to discuss the planning application for the change of use. Why would he lobby the Leader of the Council, when such applications are considered through the quasi-judicial Planning Committee, should not be political, and should not be pre-determined prior to the meeting.
Mr Dhamrait needs Derby City Council to agree to change the terms of the lease, to remove the condition for a drink-based Social Club, and assign a sub-lease with the consent of his relative.
Whether Barclays Bank, who have a legal charge over the lease, would consent, remains to be seen. This is particularly pertinent as Why Not (UK) is technically insolvent.
Whether Sinfin needs a Gurdwara is a separate matter. Whether a tired, flat-roof building will be fit for purpose is for others to decide. Whether the planning officer’s contorted argument that the change of use doesn’t affect the local amenity value rests with the conscience of the Councillors on the Planning Committee.
When Mr Damrait was de-selected from the Labour Party in 2008 there were reports of mass defections to the Tories. From the Telegraph article February 23 2008:
“Tories in Derby claim 300 Labour members in the city are to defect to their party tonight. They are confident the mass defection will take place and are bringing party chairman Caroline Spellman MP to the city to welcome them. It follows frustrations within the Asian community about the de-selection of popular Sinfin councillor Hardial Dhamrait. Asian community leaders also say they are disillusioned with Labour policies and are no longer prepared to offer the party the unquestioning support it has traditionally received from their fathers and grandfathers”
Last Thursday, Mr Dhamrait was speaking on the steps of the Council House to a group of 50 people from the Sikh community and led them in the public gallery.
Sinfin is a traditional Labour seat, with strong support from the Sikh community. If the opportunity existed for a similar, en bloc switch, to vote Conservative then there are attractive political ramifications of allowing this project to be successful.
The fast-tracking of a planning application that is not capable of being used without changes to the lease, which can be politically instructed within Derby City Council, does beg many questions…and should raise concerns.
What is the urgency? Election timescales?
Perhaps one for the Monitoring Officer to scrutinise?