An organisation fit for the 21st century

INTRODUCTION

The need for a new Act of Parliament

Malvern Hills Trust (working name of the Malvern Hills Conservators) was established in 1884 by an Act of Parliament.  The core duties, as set out in the Acts are to preserve the natural aspect of the Hills and Commons and to keep them unenclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the enjoyment of the public.  Over the last 140 years the organisation has ensured that this iconic landscape has been safeguarded for the nation.

Since 1884 there have been four subsequent Acts of Parliament, and in addition some of the Trust's administrative arrangements are set out in other legislation in part dating back to 1847.  The Trust believes the five Acts are very out of date, difficult to follow and often inconsistent and if the Trust is to continue to operate, it is vital that the Acts are updated.

Because the Trust is governed by statute, such changes have to be made by Parliament by way of a Private Bill.  This was confirmed by the Charity Commission and the Department of Culture Media and Sport in 2020 and the view was endorsed by a Government Minister in the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Committees in 2023.

The Charity Commission has now given consent for the Trust to proceed with this course of action.

A new Act will put in place much needed reforms but certain core principles will remain the same:

  • protecting and preserving the Hills as a public open space
  • keeping all decision making meetings open to the public
  • the right of those who pay the levy to elect trustees to the Board.

Over the next few months the Trust will be working on:

  • establishing the options for change
  • discussion these options with stakeholders and Government Departments
  • timetabling a further consultation to give members of the public the opportunity to make constructive input into the proposed changes.

Further information about the governance changes and progress will be published here in due course.


Celebrating 140 years of the Malvern Hills Trust

This year is our 140th anniversary!  We have been conserving the Malvern Hills and Commons landscape since we were established in 1884.  

To mark the occasion, we recently exhibited along Church Walk, Malvern.  The display featured images from our archives and what the future may look like for the Trust.  Our display is still available to view online.

Bringing our organisation into the 21st century is vital to ensure that we are able to effectively care for this landscape over the next 140 years.

Malvern Hills Trust is the working name of the Malvern Hills Conservators (registered charity number 515804).


Frequently asked questions

On proposed changes to the Malvern Hills Acts

A public consultation will be held this summer and everyone will get an opportunity to have their say on the proposed updates and changes to the Malvern Hills Acts which will be put forward by the Trust in a Private Bill.  The Trust and their advisors are currently working to finalise their proposals and details will be published in due course on the Trust's website ahead of the consultation period.

We've put together some further information below about the process and some of the proposals being put forward.

Why are you proposing to make changes to the Malvern Hills Acts?

The day-to-day work of the charity is being hampered by the outdated Malvern Hills Acts - the governing documents of the organisation.  The Trust needs to fundamentally revise its governing Acts in order to be able to operate effectively in the 21st century.

The Acts are very out of date and it is becoming increasingly difficult to administer the Trust and to care for the Hills and Commons in an effective and efficient way.  Considerable staff time is being spent interpreting the Acts, resulting in inefficient decision-making and the charity's funds being expended on legal advice when the Acts are unclear.

The Trust’s governing Acts date back to the Commissioners Clauses Act of 1847, and the 1884 Malvern Hills Act which were written in a time very different to today.

Some of the key reasons for the proposed changes are:

  • The Acts refer to many statutory provisions which are no longer in force 
  • The Victorian language is difficult to interpret
  • Because there are five Acts, it can be challenging to find all the relevant provisions on a particular topic and sometimes there are contradictions between them
  • The Trust needs to be able to deal with practical situations which were not envisaged when the Acts were passed
  • Some of the language used in the Acts has no clear meaning (for example “natural aspect”)
  • Some sections of the Acts no longer serve any purpose
  • The Trust needs a number of additional powers to enable it to operate more effectively
  • The Trust cannot comply with the current recommendations for good governance of charities.  For example, the Board of 29, which exceeds the number of staff, is too big for effective decision making and there is no way of ensuring its members have the necessary skills, experience and knowledge (see Charity Governance Code)

The Trust proposes to amalgamate all of the governing provisions within a single Act to make it easier to understand. 

Why is the Trust proposing to promote a Private Bill in Parliament?

The Trust is quite unusual in that it is a charity governed by statute.  The organisation was established through an Act of Parliament in 1884 and the only way it can change its governing Acts is through this Parliamentary process.  This is not unprecedented as since the first Act in 1884 there have been four subsequent Acts in 1909, 1924, 1930 and 1995.

The Trust has explored all avenues and making the changes by Private Bill is the only option available.

Will the new Act change the Trust’s charitable purposes?

No, the essential objects of the charity – to preserve public rights of access and the land remaining open and unbuilt on will remain the same but expressed in more modern language. 

For example, the reference to “natural aspect" in the old Acts is particularly open to a wide range of interpretations.  It is vital, therefore, that this essential objective is properly articulated so that it is clear that it applies to protecting all aspects of the natural landscape including biodiversity, geological interests, archaeological, features etc.

Will the new Act change who pays the Levy?

No, we will not change the boundary of Levy paying areas.  Neither the Charity Commission nor the Department of Culture Media and Sport, whose approval is essential, will support changes to the current boundaries. 

Will Commoners rights be protected?

Yes, existing Commoners rights are protected by separate legislation and will not be affected.

Will open access to the Hills and Commons be maintained?

Yes, we will be maintaining all existing access rights.

Will the Act enable the Trust to sell their land?

There will be no change.  With very limited exceptions the Trust cannot sell land it owns over which the public have access. 

The Trust can sell land which is used as offices or working & storage space for example our offices at Manor House.  This also will not change.

Will the Act give more power to the Trust to grant easements?

There will be no change.  The powers to grant easements are laid out in the 1930 Malvern Hills Act as updated by the 1995 Malvern Hills Act. 

The bodies which decide whether planning permission is granted for any new building or development are Malvern Hills District Council and Herefordshire Council.  Malvern Hills Trust cannot make decisions relating to planning matters.

Why does the Trust want to reduce the size of the Board?

The Charity Governance Code suggests a board of at least five but no more than twelve trustees.   Research has shown that the optimum number for good decision making is seven, with the efficiency of the Board decreasing by 10% with every additional member. The current Acts provide for 29 trustees (though we only have 24 as of April 2024).  There are currently more Trustees than employees and this places a considerable administrative burden on the staff.

What other changes will be made to the way the Board is appointed?

Those who pay the levy will still elect some of the trustees, and as now, people from the local area will be able to choose to stand for election. 

Although it is proposed that the Board size will be reduced, the proportion of elected Board members will increase from 38% of trustees under the current arrangements to 50% with the proposed governance changes.

Increasing Board diversity is an important benefit of the proposed changes.  The Trust, like other charities, needs to ensure the Board has a diverse range of trustees with the right skills and background to effectively manage the Trust.  For example, in October 2023 the average age of Board members was 71 and only 6 of them were women.  The governance changes will enable a wide range of people to apply to become a trustee and be selected for their relevant skills and background.

What will this cost?

The Charity Commission have authorised the Trust to spend £306K on legal costs and fees associated with the Parliamentary Process, but there will be other costs for example staff time in supporting the process, keeping the public informed and the costs of a public consultation.  The Trust proposes to spread some of the cost by taking a loan repayable over 25 years.

The benefits of updating the charity’s governance, particularly financial benefits, may not be immediately obvious.  However, enabling the charity to carry out its work more efficiently will be a better use of its resources.  The ability to diversify the Trust’s income streams will also put the charity in a much more stable and secure financial position for the future and reduce the reliance on levy payers.

How will proposed changes affect fundraising?

At the moment, the Trust powers to raise funds are very limited.  It needs to be able to diversify its income streams, and raise funds in the same way as other modern charities.  For example, one of the proposals under consideration is to set up a membership organisation.  This would help to raise funds and engage members of the public who want to support the Trust but live outside the levy paying area.

When will I be able to find out more?

The formal process of drafting the proposed changes has now started and more detailed information will be made available to the public on the Trust’s website 

Will I get to have my say on the proposed changes?

Yes, the Trust plans to undertake a public consultation in the summer.  We want to hear from as wide a range of people as possible for example, those living in the local community, local businesses, users of the Hills and Commons, those interested in the natural environment and heritage, and those who simply enjoy being in this iconic landscape.