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After a seven-year saga, Blackbushe aerodrome is to stay as part of Yateley Common. That is the final pronouncement of an inspector who has determined the application of Blackbushe Airport Ltd (BAL), made in November 2016, to remove nearly half a square kilometre of airfield from the Hampshire register of common land.
We celebrate the decision of government inspector Mark Yates BA (Hons) MIPROW to grant BAL’s application only in relation to the aerodrome terminal building and café. The two buildings together occupy around 500m²—just 0.1% of what was sought to be deregistered in the 2016 application.
Our case officer for commons, Hugh Craddock, says: ‘We are pleased that the inspector finally has closed the door to deregistration of common land at Blackbushe without provision of compensatory land. Six years ago, commenting on BAL’s application, I said that it was “a cynical attempt to reverse, once and for all, the recognition that the aerodrome is rightly part of the common.” We said then that we would fight the application—and we did.
‘We challenged it through a public inquiry, following which another inspector (now retired) shamefully agreed with BAL’s absurd proposition that nearly half a square kilometre of aerodrome was curtilage of the terminal building. I said then that “Blackbushe aerodrome is no more curtilage of the terminal building than Victoria station is curtilage of the signal box.”
‘We appeared alongside Hampshire County Council to challenge the decision, and the high court agreed with us and ordered the decision to be quashed. BAL appealed, but the court of appeal upheld the quashing order. Now, an inspector has redetermined the application and done what we said should have been done many years ago—found that only the two buildings are eligible for deregistration.’
Hugh continues: ‘If this application had succeeded, it would have put at risk countless commons which are occupied by golf courses—where it would be claimed that the course was curtilage of the club house—or town or village greens—where the green was said to be curtilage of the cricket pavilion.’
Hugh concluded: ‘We are delighted that the land remains on the register. But our excellent legal advice has come at a cost of over £50,000, as well as countless hours of staff time which could have been deployed to support other commons under threat. The courts have shown that no application of this kind can succeed in future, and it has been a hugely worthwhile campaign. But it should never have been necessary.’
Under paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 to the Commons Act 2006, application may be made to deregister common land which, at the time of its registration under Commons Registration Act 1965, and ever since, has been covered by a building or the curtilage of a building. The application was made by Blackbushe Airport Ltd to Hampshire County Council as the commons registration authority. The application was referred (as required) to the Planning Inspectorate for determination.
The airfield is part of Yateley Common and was requisitioned as an RAF base during the Second World War. Although it was de-requisitioned in 1960, and the terminal building was sold off for demolition (the contractual obligation to demolish being flouted), the common continued in use as a private airfield—despite being correctly registered as common land under the 1965 Act following a decision of the high court in 1976 (Re Yateley Common, Hampshire  1 All ER 505).
Original decision (quashed by order of the high court) dated 12 June 2019 under reference COM/3206697: R (on the application of Hampshire County Council) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Blackbushe Airport Ltd (high court).
BAL appealed to the court of appeal: Blackbushe Airport Ltd v Hampshire County Council, R (on the application of) and others
Leave to appeal to the supreme court was refused.
Final decision dated 10 November 2023 under reference COM/3206697R
Philip Petchey of Francis Taylor Building acted for the society, instructed by Matthew McFeeley of Richard Buxton, Solicitors. George Laurence QC and Simon Adamyk of New Square Chambers acted for the council, instructed by Hampshire Legal Services.