Businesses battling to save Wellesbourne Airfield received some good news this week as the council decided to open compulsory purchase proceedings at the site.
The news follows a major legal defeat for the airfield tenants last week when a judge ruled that they would not be offered new leases.
Tenants of the award-winning airfield have been engaged in a protracted legal dispute with landlords Littler Investments, who want to demolish buildings on the site with a view to selling it for housing.
Last week Judge Richard Hayden Williams ruled that the businesses would not be able to renew their leases at the site, after deciding that that landlords had a ‘reasonable prospect’ of gaining planning permission to demolish.
The ruling came as a shock to businesses and Wellesbourne residents, who believed that a series of legal obstacles preventing demolition, would make it impossible for the owners to carry out their unpopular plans.
To add salt to the wound, the tenants are now facing the prospect of paying legal fees well in excess of a quarter of a million pounds, a sum which may cause some of the businesses to fold.
As it currently stands airfield tenants must leave the site by 15th October.
Despite the devastating verdict there is growing confidence at the airfield that the fight is not over and an online crowdfunding page to raise money for an appeal has already been launched, currently standing at more than £15,000.
Stratford District Council has long backed the airfield businesses, stepping in with planning legislation at the last minute in 2016 to prevent Littler Investments carrying our demolition work under permitted development rules.
Their announcement this week concerning compulsory purchase further reinforces this support.
A statement from Littler Investments reacting to last week’s court verdict said: “The landowners are pleased that the court has accepted that we were fully justified in seeking to end the current tenancies.
“We consider the Judge’s findings are clear and we expect this will mark the end of the legal process. We hope we can now work with the tenants to enable them to relocate their businesses within the three month deadline set by the court.
“As we made clear in our public comments in December 2016, we have always adopted a fair approach towards the tenants of Wellesbourne Airfield. We have provided as much advance warning as possible to enable these tenants to plan for the future, so it is disappointing that our approach towards our own land has been so negatively portrayed. Despite the previous operator of the airfield terminating their lease 18 months ago, the landowners have put the necessary arrangements in place to enable the airfield to continue operating in the meantime.
“We firsts started talking to the tenants about the future in 2015, when new formal leases with beneficial terms were offered. When these offers were rejected by the tenants we gave them 12 months’ notice that the tenancies would end.
“This legal case was solely related to a contractual dispute and the entitlements of the tenants have now been determined by the court. This is entirely separate to the site’s planning status. Any future development of the site is a matter to be considered and approved through the statutory planning process.”
To help the airfield tenants raise money to fund an appeal visit https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/SaveWellesbourneAirfield
For a full report on the council’s compulsory purchase plans, tenants’ reaction to the statement from Littler Investments and all the latest news Wellesbourne Airfield read tomorrow’s Herald.