Legal decision on airport community asset application

Plymouth City Council’s Head of Legal Services has issued a determination on an application to list land and buildings at Plymouth Airport as an asset of community value.

An application by the Friends of Plymouth Airport to designate the site as an asset of community value has to be determined against the criteria set down in statute.

The legislation on assets of community value aims to give communities a right to identify a building or other land that they believe furthers the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community, so if the asset comes up for sale they will be given a fair chance to make a bid to buy it on the open market within a set period.

The application has been considered by the Council’s Head of Legal Services, who has a statutory role of ensuring the law is administered correctly and followed by the authority.

In his determination on the application by the Friends of Plymouth Airport, the Head of Legal Services has had to test whether the application meets the criteria for listing set out in Section 88 of the Localism Act 2011.

He has considered the application in depth and tested whether the current use of building and land, their use in the recent past, or use that might realistically be considered in the next five years meet the criteria in the act for them to further ‘the social wellbeing and social interest of the local community’. 

In his determination the Head of Legal Services comments that before the airport closed in December 2011 it was a heavily regulated site and the community had no access to most of it beyond the passenger areas. Since the airport has been closed the whole site has been fenced off and inaccessible to the community.

He also considered whether any of uses could apply to Section 88 (6) of the act, which defines the term ‘social interests’ to include cultural interests, recreational interests and sporting interests. 

The uses of the site before the airport closed, such as the Flying School, Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) flights and medical related flights, were all considered.

He also had to have regard to the fact that the statute excludes from the definition of ‘land that may be registered as an asset of community value’ land that is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority – which would, of course, include a commercial regional airport.

After testing all these uses against the criteria set down in the act the Head of Legal Services concluded that, as the uses do not fulfil the statutory criteria, he must refuse the application. 

Tracey Lee, Chief Executive, said: “The Council has a duty to consider this application purely on its legal merits, which means assessing whether it would meet the criteria set out in the relevant legislation. The Head of Legal Services has looked at this in great detail and has had to determine that the application does not meet the relevant criteria. This decision is purely a legal one and does not reflect the Council’s standpoint, which is to continue to protect the airport site.”

Council Leader, Tudor Evans said: “Sometimes the lawyers have to tell us things we don’t want to hear and this decision is one of those cases. However, the listing would have offered limited protection as it would have given the Friends just six months to buy the airport site at market value if it had come up for sale.

“As a council we have already committed to continuing to protect the site for use as an airport in the long term. We intend to extend the protection in the new Plymouth Plan which runs until 2031. We now need the 38,000 people who signed the airport petition to support the new Plymouth Plan when it comes out for consultation early next month.”