Property firm hits back in legal row with council over airfield

Property firm Sutton Harbour has hit back against Plymouth Council in a public row over the ownership of the city’s airport.

Plymouth Council has threatened to sue the developer in a dispute over the lease of the abandoned airfield.

The local authority alleged breaches of the lease, an accusation which Sutton Harbour categorically rejected in a statement to the stock market.

Sutton Harbour originally acquired the airfield in April 2000 but decided to close it ten years later.

A notice of non-viability of the Plymouth City Airport  was delivered to the council in December 2010 and was accepted the following summer.

The approved Joint Local Plan governing development in Plymouth and its surrounding areas for 17 years came into effect in 2019.

It was accepted by the Government Planning Inspectors that development of the former Plymouth City Airport site should be postponed for a maximum of five years, which would allow enough time for a viable aviation proposal to be brought forward.

The Planning Inspectors advised that the site, which is close  to established surrounding residential neighbourhoods, industrial space, the leading hospital in the South West, a university and transport infrastructure, was too valuable to be ‘frozen’ for a longer period.

The company has since expended considerable time and capital in respect of its management and safeguarding of the FAS, with the fully informed knowledge and approval of the council.

The present value of total net cash expenditure by the company on the site and former aviation operations since its acquisition amounts to more than £27m.

It currently costs around £200,000 per year to  maintain and safeguarding the site.

Sutton Harbour  looked to defray some of these ongoing costs through permitting Derriford Hospital to make use of parts of the airfield for temporary parking and as a temporary staging site for construction operations.

However, the council denied permission for any such temporary uses.

Plymouth Council ended discussions about the future of the site because the parties were unable to agree on certain legal issues.

The company is planning to submit a masterplan for a phased development of the airfield to the Council in its capacity as Local Planning Authority in the coming weeks.

This masterplan will set out three phases of development for institutional, business and housing development on other areas of the site.

Sutton Harbour says it is willing to engage in discussion with the council in respect of these matters has maintained its openness and willingness to engage with the council throughout the safeguarding period.