A charity established in the name of Stirling's greatest benefactor is locked in a legal dispute with the city's council.

Cowane's Hospital Trust, established in the 17th century to administer assets and land worth £10m owned by John Cowane, has petitioned the Court of Session in an attempt to bring to an end Stirling councillors' historic and automatic right to be its patrons.

The council is expected to fight Cowane's over the bid to cut its influence.

A report prepared for the council's executive committee today says the administrative changes are considered to be "more far-reaching than required and contrary to the original testamentary wishes of John Cowane".

Born in 1570, John Cowane, who was also known as Auld Staney Breeks, was a wealthy Stirling merchant, councillor, baillie and Burgh representative. He was also Member of Parliament for Stirling from 1625-1632.

On his sudden death at the age of 63, he left the sum of 40,000 merks to be used to establish an almshouse or hospital for the needy of the burgh.

Originally known as Cowane's Hospital, it was later used as a school and epidemic hospital and is now a public venue. A statue of John Cowane remains above the entrance.

The new trust constitution would see five Stirling councillors appointed alongside six independent patrons. Those councillors who do end up being patrons would not be able to attend meetings where there are discussions over leases, sales, planning permissions or legal actions, where there is a mutual interest.

Stirlingshire Educational Trust, which provides further education grants to people in need in the county, was concerned that it was losing out because the land could have been used to generate more income.

Cowane's is a not-for-profit housing provider within Stirling, mainly for the elderly.

Elizabeth Duncan, acting solicitor to the council, will tell councillors today that the move has come out of "long-standing dispute" between Cowane's, the council and Stirlingshire Educational Trust over the "validity of land transactions" involving mainly the old Stirling Burgh Council.

Stirlingshire Educational Trust, which is entitled to half of the "free income" of the hospital trust, has claimed that land transactions mainly for council housing between Cowane's and the former Stirling Burgh Council worth millions of pounds were questionable under trust law and were at least a conflict of interest.

She said: "The trustee must exercise his powers in the way that best furthers the interests of the beneficiary rather than himself. The trustee cannot profit from this position as trustee, must avoid any conflict with the interests of the beneficiaries, and must not engage in self-dealing with the trust fund.

"The council has always maintained, on the basis of advice from senior counsel, that ... the whole dispute was based on a fundamental error of law."

She said the Cowane's changes relating to the council's involvement were considered "unnecessary".

Questions over the relationship between Cowane's and the council were highlighted six years ago when the then Labour provost Tommy Brookes was stripped of office over allegations he abused his position in an attempt to help a director of Celtic buy seven acres of derelict farm.

Stirling Council decided Mr Brookes had breached the code of conduct for councillors as a result of his dealings in connection with the proposed £395,000 deal for land owned by from Cowane's involving Tom Allison, a chief executive of Clydeport and a non-executive director of Celtic. The farm was in an area expected to soar in value.

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