A trustee of a charity behind the regeneration of Nechells Baths has told a court how he and others involved in the £5 million project put their faith in a former vicar and fundraising guru who is being sued over payments he made to himself.
Midlands Regen, a company established under the umbrella of the charity Birmingham Foundation (now known as Birmingham & Black Country Community Foundation), is suing former city clergyman and treasurer of Birmingham Cathedral David Collyer in the High Court in Birmingham.
The case centres on payments totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds Mr Collyer made to himself in return for his services to raise funds for the scheme – an act branded “a deliberate breach of financial duty”.
Substantial payments to Mr Collyer are to be scrutinised in the four-week trial and the case will also consider whether the charity itself had to make a financial contribution, although the charity claims Mr Collyer gave assurances all the funding would come via grants.
In turn, Mr Collyer is claiming he was entitled to payment for work associated with the Nechells Baths project and also that he lent money to it which had to be repaid.
The project, which was completed in 2007, involved the restoration of the baths, which saw the dilapidated Edwardian structure transformed into a 21st century community facility providing training, crèche and offices for social enterprises. It was initially expected to cost £4.135 million but ended up costing £4.9 million – and it is understood up to £1.9 million remained unaccounted for.
Midlands Regen was set up to deal with the handling of grants to fund the seven-year project. However, a second company known as Midlands Regeneration Ltd was also set up.
Funding for the regeneration project included a grant of several million pounds handed out by the European Regional Development Fund, funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a donation from Advantage West Midlands and hand-outs from other sources.
Richard Jones QC for Midlands Regen said: “The claim relates to the making of payments by the defendant to himself. The facts of the payments themselves are not an issue.
“We are saying they were a deliberate breach of financial duty – it is difficult to see what else they could be.” Mr Jones said the documents for the case included 5,000 pages of exhibits and 355 witness statements.
He added: “Were substantial loans made by Mr Collyer to the project? He claims very significant amounts were loaned by him. Also a separate topic emerged at a later date whether the foundation would be liable for a voluntary contribution of 25 per cent of the costs – a sum in excess of £1 million.
“A total cost £958,000 is what gave rise to the balloon going up and leading to many investigations taking place as to what was and what was not eligible.