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Airfield Owner Fights Off Tenants’ Applications for New Leases

When commercial leases expire or are terminated, tenants are generally entitled to have them renewed – but there are exceptions to the rule. One such exception came under analysis in a guideline High Court case concerning the future use of a historic airfield which saw service during the Second World War.

The company that owned the airfield leased various hangars and other buildings to a number of tenants by way of oral monthly periodic tenancies. Most of the tenants were engaged in aircraft maintenance, operating flying schools or other aviation-related activities. The company, however, wished to regain possession of the airfield with a view to its development for residential purposes.

After the company served notice terminating their tenancies, the tenants sought new leases, for 15-year terms, in reliance on Part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. The company, however, pointed to the exception contained within Section 30(1)(f) of the Act. By that provision, landlords are entitled to oppose the grant of new leases on the basis that they intend to demolish, reconstruct, or carry out substantial works of construction on a substantial part of the premises, and that such an objective could not reasonably be achieved without regaining possession.

The company said that it wished to demolish the premises occupied by the tenants. That would, however, require planning permission and the tenants argued that such consent was unlikely to be granted given, amongst other things, widespread local opposition to the company’s plans. A judge, however, found that the exception applied and dismissed the claims for new tenancies.

In rejecting the tenants’ appeal against that decision, the Court ruled that the judge was entitled to find on the basis of expert evidence that the company had at least a reasonable prospect of success in obtaining planning consent for the demolition works. Even were such permission refused, there was apparently no realistic prospect of the aviation use of the premises being reinstated.

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