STEPAL charity move comes under fire

Flooding at North Haugh, St Andrews, site proposed by STEPAL and others for the new Madras College.
Flooding at North Haugh, St Andrews, site proposed by STEPAL and others for the new Madras College.

STEPAL can now claim Gift Aid on donations as a result of its new charitable status, and the organisation is also now applying for registration with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

It is also currently appealing the High Court’s decision to dismiss its petition questioning the legality of the decision to grant permission for the school. The case is due to be heard next month.

Supporters of the Pipeland site for Madras were quick to voice their concerns over STEPAL’s new status.

They question the compatability of its stated aims with its actions over the Pipeland site and continued promotion of the North Haugh, which, they say, is home to a rich variety of wildlife.

STEPAL’s objectives detailed on the Scottish Charity Regulator’s (OSCR) website include advancing environmental protection, promoting the use, management and preservation of land in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, promoting good citizenship, and the advancement of the arts, heritage, culture and sciences.’’

Its own website outlines what the association has done since its inception, as well as the campaign against Pipeland, listing objections to three planning applications, and contributions to planning consultations.

Critics of the new status of STEPAL question the decision.

Councillor Brian Thomson explained his understanding of the situation: “To gain charitable status, I understand that an organisation has to demonstrate that it has only charitable purposes, and that it provides public benefit in achieving those purposes,” he said.

“It’s surprising that an organisation that’s been set up to block the construction of a desperately needed new secondary school has been granted such status.

“The site which STEPAL claims a new school should be built on, the North Haugh/Pond Site, is neither suitable for a new school, or available to Fife Council on terms that it can accept. It is populated by a wide range of wildlife. It also includes an arboretum, which has ‘a valuable collection of rare and unusual tree species.’

“So, STEPAL is a ‘charity’, which wishes to advance environmental protection/improvement that will benefit young people, but wishes to block the development of a desperately needed new school, and advocates the development of a site that’s teeming with wildlife and contains valuable and unusual tree species. You really couldn’t make it up.”

Supporters of the Pipeland site, Parent Voice, also commented, asking: “Would any serious charity set up for ‘the advancement of environmental protection’ spend tens of thousands of pounds campaigning to bulldoze the home of rare nesting herons, protected bat species and to concrete over one of St Andrews largest flood plains?

“STEPAL has been accused of wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer money, with time consuming court cases, and the costs of delaying a large infrastructure project. Are they now looking to use money claimed from HMRC to help fund even more lawyers to block the new school?”

Martin Tyson ,OSCR’s head of registration, , said: “STEPAL made an application to us and, as with any application for charity status, this was assessed against the charity test set out in legislation.”