Plymouth Council is threatening legal action as frustrations mount over its ambition to return an airport to the region.

It says it has “fired a shot across the bows” to Sutton Harbour Group (SHG), which owns Plymouth City Airport Ltd (PCAL).

The airport site is owned by the council.

Now a letter has been sent to the company’s legal representatives to say the Council believes that PCAL 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 has 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.

Plymouth City Airport sign
Plymouth City Airport sign (Richard Harding)

The 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. 

These events could not have been realistically anticipated at the time the five-year period was set in the local plan, the council said. There have also been significant developments in aviation technology.

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.

Given this, the council says it is considering options for extending the safeguarding period, and its position will be set out in March.

Plymouth Airport has a rich history dating back to its establishment in 1925.

Plymouth Airport from the air (Google)

Originally known as Roborough Aerodrome, it served as a military airfield during World War II, playing a crucial role in the defence of the region. Post-war, it transitioned into a civilian airport and underwent several expansions and renovations to accommodate the growing demand for air travel.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Plymouth Airport experienced a surge in passenger traffic, becoming a vital gateway for the South-West, with connections to London and the Channel Islands.

However, as air travel evolved and larger airports emerged, Plymouth faced challenges in maintaining its viability and the airport closed in 2011.