Bisley Shooting Clubs in last stand
CLUB members at the National Shooting Centre at Bisley have raised alarm bells over the future of their clubhouses.
Almost 30 clubs at Bisley Camp have banded together to form the Association of Bisley Clubs and Tenants (ABCAT) in response to an unprecedented hike in their rent and leases by the National Rifle Association, whose headquarters are also at Bisley.
ABCAT warns that the NRAs actions could see the demise of a number of historic names, including the Artists Rifles Clubhouse, built almost 100 years ago for members of the Artists Rifles Regiment that was incorporated into the Special Air Services after the Second World War.
Meanwhile, a group of Conservative MPs called on the Charity Commission to investigate the NRA, which was set up as a charity to promote marksmanship.
The Artists Rifles is one of a number of organisations at Bisley that have taken legal action against the NRA, but now fears for its survival due to the financial impact of a four-year long legal wrangle over a demand for a five-fold increase in its annual ground rent. It is now awaiting the findings of arbitration due at the end of this week.
In a flurry of claims and counter claims, Mr Andrew Mercer, who took over as CEO of the NRA in 2012, says: “The terms on the lease were agreed on in February this year and were signed by both parties – it’s a matter of pubic record.”
However, Mr Moss Mustafa, who took over the lease and chairmanship of the clubhouse in 2003, describes this as “incorrect” as court proceedings have not been discontinued, only “stayed”, adding: “We have agreed the lease terms but we have still not agreed on the definition of the “Landlord’s Fixtures” nor the definition of the “Tenants Improvements.”
Mr Mustafa says: “The NRA has continued to insist on a rent of £14,700 pa despite being unable to justify this amount to our surveyor.”
The NRA has now taken the issue to rent Arbitration and the ARC fears it is likely to cost them around £20,000 in addition to surveyors’ fees and has launched a fundraising campaign on Justgiving to enable it to continue its battle.
Mr Mercer is also challenging the Artists Rifles Clubhouse’s military links, saying it is held under a private tenancy. He added that, “if servicemen want to use the club for social reasons we understand that, Bisley is lovely, but I don’t think that justifies a cheaper rent from the NRA”.
Mr Mustafa points out that “a number of veterans have helped to fund the £1.2million spent on purchasing the ARC, refurbishing a dilapidated building that had not traded in for two years, effectively subsidising a loss-making business for 14 years since its acquisition in 2003. The other investors were happy for the lease to be in my name as there is trust amongst us.”
Mr Mercer says that The NRA supports the work of about 850 clubs across the UK, of these about 27 have clubhouses at Bisley, explaining that the 108 tenants at Bisley are a combination of residential and clubhouse tenants.
“We are simply trying to apply a rent that is fair and equitable,” he says. “A number of tenants have had very cheap terms over many years. For those who had been paying a fair and marketable rent before, the increase has been very modest. But if you were previously paying a small rent, the rent increase will seem higher.”
ABCAT claims the NRA’s actions run contrary to its role as a national governing body for shooting, which Mr Mercer refutes, saying that Bisley is recognised around the world as the home of target shooting and the most important range in Western Europe.