Council threatens developer with legal action as long-running dispute comes to a head

Plymouth Council is threatening to take legal action against a property firm in a long-running dispute centred on the future of the city’s airport.

Plymouth City Airport closed in 2011 after the operators Sutton Harbour Group (SHG) said it was no longer viable.

The council has fired a shot across the bows to Sutton Harbour Group warning them to expect legal action in the coming weeks.

A letter has been sent to the company saying the council believes that Plymouth City Airport Ltd  – a company owned wholly by SHG – is in breach of its lease covenants.

The council is asking PCAL to confirm within 14 days that it will comply with the leases.

If it does not meet the deadline, the council, as freeholder of the site, will take steps to bring the leases to an end.

Council leader Tudor Evans said: “We have tried the discussions and negotiations for a number of years with Sutton Harbour, but to no avail. We wanted to avoid going down the legal route, but time is running out. We sent them a warning letter last week setting out our intentions.

“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes, which given the legal processes we are not yet at liberty to say, but rest assured we are on the case. We are a major city, we have ambitions to grow and thrive and an airport must be part of that story.”

The Council made a number of attempts over several years to progress discussions about the airport, including efforts to merge the lease.

The airport land is currently protected by two policies which safeguard the land until the five-year review of the plan. The five-year review point is in March.

These safeguarding policies were put in place to give sufficient time for a private sector-led business plan to be finalised and put into action to deliver aviation uses.

However, since the plan was adopted there have been global events that have impacted many sectors, including aviation; notably, the COVID 19 pandemic, and the economic consequences of the Russia/Ukraine war and other events on global markets.

Although the five-year point will be reached, this does not necessarily mean that the council will no longer be able to safeguard the airport site.

The Joint Local Plan, which runs until 2034, still retains the objective of restoring aviation uses. Additionally, Government policy supports a positive approach to planning for general aviation.

A statement from Sutton Harbour said: “The Company notes the press statement issued  by Plymouth City Council. The company confirms that it received a letter from PCC on 19 January 2024 alleging breach of lease covenants in relation to Plymouth City Airport.

“Plymouth City Airport Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sutton Harbour Group plc, owns the long leasehold interest in the former airport site.

“In March 2019, the Government Inspectors agreed to a five year safeguard of the airport site from non-airport uses as part of the approved Joint Local Plan. The company has been actively engaged in various consultations and preparations in anticipation of the imminent end of the safeguarding.

“The Company is considering, in conjunction with its advisers, the contents of the letter from PCC and will update the market as appropriate in due course.”

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