Category Archive: Real Estate

Quarry redeveloped into nationally-known tourist attraction

A Northumberland quarry which had fallen into disuse is being redeveloped into a nature reserve, in a project spearheaded by the local community.

Embleton Quarry dates back to 1864 and was a major source of employment for the area for over 100 years, but after whinstone production ended in the 1960s, the site became overgrown and unused.

Wanting to revive the site, Embleton Parish Council put together a plan of action in 2016 which led to them acquiring parts of the quarry in stages from Northumberland County Council, and now owns the whole quarry and the associated Quarry House.

Led by local people, the site – the first on the coast to be awarded Dark Skies Designation Status – has been subject to extensive works to make it into an attraction for locals and tourists alike, with significant clearance and groundwork being carried out over the past five years.

Through the dedication of the Parish Council and the Embleton community, the site is now easily accessible again after the years of dereliction, and work is ongoing to make it fully accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs so as to become a family and disability-friendly attraction.

The latest phase in the development of Embleton Quarry Nature Reserve involves the preservation of the Quarry House, once the home of the quarry manager, which it is hoped will be restored in the years ahead.

The huge achievement has seen the project feature on Kate Humble’s Coastal Britain, as part of her visit to Northumberland earlier this year.

The acquisition of the site has been supported by specialists at law firm Sintons, which has supported Embleton Parish Council in delivering on its ambitions to revive the quarry to become a site at the heart of its community.

“We have spent a lot of time designing the site to get to our objective of creating a nature reserve,” says Terry Howells, chair of Embleton Parish Council.

“The great thing about this project is that nobody has had a bad word to say about it, everyone seems to be with us. It’s very much led by the community.

“Back in 2017, we got to work straight away in clearing undesirable gorse and other vegetation, acquiring the rest of the quarry and then opening up more of the site from there.

“We’ve managed to clear a lot of paths and it’s now a site people can visit and enjoy, although work continues. We held a trial evening of stargazing in the darkest part of the quarry, and over 100 people came, so that was very successful – we look forward to hosting more of such events.

“Recently we organised clearing inside the house, which was a big job in itself – over the years the roof had fallen in and some massive trees had grown inside the house, and we are now working on getting it ready for stabilisation work to take place.

“This has been a huge undertaking and a very exciting project, and we’re delighted to have such positivity and positive feedback from the community and from our visitors, too.”

The Parish Council has been supported by Tom Wills, head of agriculture and estates at Sintons, alongside real estate solicitor Sam Watts, in the acquisition and development of the site.

“The development of Embleton Quarry Nature Reserve is an absolutely fantastic project, and the fact this has been led by the local community makes it very special,” says Sam.

“This has been a real labour of love for the Parish Council, and their volunteer workers whose dedication has been unfaltering.

“Through their efforts, what was once a key site in the local community has regained its proud status through becoming an attraction which is set to bring in tourists from miles around, as well as being a beautiful area for local people to enjoy.

“It has been a genuine privilege to be part of such a community-led initiative, which continues to develop and become even more impressive. Embleton Quarry Nature Reserve is now another great asset in our wonderful North East of England and we are delighted to have supported the plans in becoming a reality.”

Real Estate department at Sintons continues to grow with new addition

The real estate department at Sintons is continuing to grow and display its ambition with the addition of a new partner.

Julie Perkins joins Sintons with a wealth of experience in the real estate sector, with particular specialism in ecclesiastical work, adding further to Sintons’ renowned expertise in this niche area of law.

The firm’s faith-based institutions team acts for a wide range of high-profile clients on a national basis, including the Managing Trustees of the Methodist Church and Church Commissioners for England, making it a leading specialist advisor in the field.

In addition to her ecclesiastical specialism, Julie’s wide-ranging experience has seen her act for other major landlords and land owners including international estate holders, property investment funds, and sizeable corporate and private real estate property owners.

During her career, Julie – who relocates from a Yorkshire-based law firm to join Sintons – has dealt with matters of great complexity, including overseeing sales of major assets and the purchase of sites for extensive and high-value development.

She joins Sintons at a time of strong progress for the firm and its award-winning real estate team, which has a national reputation for its work and counts some of the most esteemed and recognisable names in UK commercial property among its clients.

The team, which is regularly instructed in matters nationally, continues to build its presence and profile in other specialist sectors of real estate work in addition to its faith-based work, including healthcare, leisure and construction.

“Sintons has a wealth of experience and capability across the entire real estate spectrum, with the size and range of specialisms within the team giving huge potential for us to build even further on what we have here,” says Julie.

“I am very pleased to join Sintons and the partnership, and look forward to working with colleagues to develop and grow the real estate team and wider business even further.”

Mark Dobbin, head of real estate, said: “Julie is a highly experienced real estate lawyer with an excellent reputation for her work. The fact she is able to add further expertise to our nationally-renowned work with faith-based institutions is a great asset in what is a highly niche area of legal work.

“At Sintons, we are held in the highest regard for the expertise and experience we have within our team, which enables us to handle a number of major deals consecutively and complete within the tightest of timescales, while delivering a level of client service that is second to none.

“Through ongoing instructions from major clients nationally, we continue to build our department and its presence in the UK real estate sector, and we look forward to working with Julie and the rest of our team to developing this even further.”

Ladhar Group acquisition paves way for sector resurgence

Despite the hugely difficult conditions for leisure operators, we have continued to see ambition and investment in preparation for the recovery and future prosperity of the industry.

While some have been forced to scale back, and others have sadly ceased trading altogether, others have weathered the storm as they look to emerge stronger from the other side.

Operators across the North East and beyond have taken the opportunity to invest in their premises, diversify their offering and sometimes add new properties to their portfolio. For tenants, landlord incentives have enticed them to move into buildings which have lost their occupiers during the pandemic, helping to revive town and city centres in the process.

But for some operators, their confidence in the future of their operation and the wider sector has seen major movement, huge investment and significant ambition.

One of the biggest leisure deals in the North East scene in recent years has been the acquisition of the Sir John Fitzgerald group by the Ladhar Group – both family-owned, longstanding operators in the region’s leisure economy, with Sir John Fitzgerald dating from the 1850s.

The deal – named Property Deal of the Year at the North East Property Awards 2021 – comprised the purchase of 16 leisure businesses and their associated properties, and retains ownership of a famous North East brand within the region.

The transaction was completed by Sintons, as the longstanding advisor to Ladhar Group, and was completed during a lockdown period with all parties working remotely – quite a feat to achieve, and certainly a deal like no other I have worked on, but a fantastic outcome for both businesses and the region.

The Ladhar Group have long been a hugely ambitious leisure business in the region, with an array of highly popular venues in central Newcastle which continue to see investment to ensure their offering is at the top of their game, and ongoing plans for the redevelopment of other areas of the city.

Their move to acquire another leisure business, despite the huge challenges that faced the leisure industry at that time, was brave and showed great leadership in the sector for others to follow by giving a very timely endorsement of the strength of the North East’s hospitality sector and the fact it would rise again.

Whether working with premises they already occupy, or looking to acquire new or different ones, the confidence that is returning to the sector – as well as North East town and city centres – makes this a great time to explore options and exercise ambition.

Article from our North East Leisure Supplement 2022, produced in conjunction with Sanderson Weatherall.

Alok Loomba Partner in Real Estate at Sintons – alok.loomba@sintons.co.uk 0191 226 7843.

Covid-19 Bounce Back

When we sat down to discuss our annual North East Leisure Supplement two years ago, we planned to highlight the peaks and troughs experienced by the leisure industry over the previous 12 months, as we had done routinely for years. Neither of us could have imagined, within a few weeks of that meeting, that such monumental and world changing events would have taken place. We decided not to proceed with our publication at that time, as it felt inappropriate to be expressing views on the health of the sector as the whole world, not just the leisure industry, appeared to be looking into the abyss.

Two years on, and with the Coronavirus pandemic, hopefully, becoming a manageable part of our lives, we can start to reflect on what has happened, review the positive lessons we have all learnt, and think more confidently about how the leisure industry is placed to bounce back.

As professionals working in the leisure sector – with over 60 years’ experience between us – we have always been acutely aware of the tenacity and strength of our clients. However, in the face of ever-changing Government regulation, nervous customers and significant staffing issues, it would have been easy for operators to close up shop and ride out the storm on Government loans and furlough pay-outs.

On the contrary, many of our leisure leaders took the opportunity to develop and expand their leisure offerings, investing in the future and positioning themselves to be in the strongest possible position once the restrictions lifted.

Those decisions showed a confidence not only that “this too shall pass”, but gave a huge endorsement in the industry more generally. A major lesson learnt in the pandemic is that we are social beings and need to be in the company of others to maintain good mental health. Where better to seek out those interactions than in the bars and restaurants of our cities and towns? They are an integral part of our lives and of our future.

During the last two years, we have seen some of the most bold, creative and innovative measures taken by operators to keep their businesses trading and their staff in employment.

From restaurant operators developing “cook at home” and delivery services of the highest a la carte food, to bar operators creating exotic cocktail nights to enjoy with friends via Zoom; not to mention the reinvention of much of our street scene into magical outdoor spaces inviting us to linger even on the chilliest of North East winter nights.

These offerings became reminders that there was still pleasure to be taken in the most difficult of times. Many of the changes created through necessity have been so successful they are likely to remain.

Certainly, the continental cafe culture, that was a dream of New Labour at the turn of the century, is here to stay. Officers were always wary of the potential noise and disorder issues that outside drinking may have on a city centre. However, this imposed trial has clearly been successful, with pavement cafes being well managed; they have clearly added a vibrancy to many town and city centres.

The introduction of table service has also been welcomed by customers and operators alike. No more jostling at the bar and spilled drinks as you fight your way back to your table; this offering creates a more relaxed atmosphere with customers staying in venues longer.

Customers’ appreciation of their leisure time has also led to a change in what they want from a night out. The importance of maintaining a work/life balance is reflected in people’s desire to reconnect with friends and family and enjoy leisure at an experiential level. The sector has obliged by offering ‘Instagram-able’ afternoon teas, locally-produced artisan products and competitive socialising experiences aplenty, leading to a general uplift in quality.

Town centre bars and restaurants have seen a surge in popularity as people want to ‘stay local’ and support their local operators. That in turn has seen existing and new operators investing in town centres which will have long-term benefits and is set to continue.

Staycations have also increased interest in the region and tourism is likely to continue to increase as both the pandemic and Brexit see people keen to explore the UK.

As the world starts to unlock – hopefully we have been shut down for the last time – the true impact of the pandemic on the leisure sector will start to show. There will be a long-term impact and not all of it will be positive.

Some parts of the sector – theatres, cinemas and nightclubs – have been hit hard with the tightest regulations applying to them and that will take a long time to repair.

Staffing issues in the hospitality sector are at crisis level with some venues, particularly in the hotel sector, not operating at full capacity simply because they do not have sufficient staff to allow them to operate safely. Time will tell if the issue is purely down to Covid-19 or the fallout of Brexit, but changes need to be made to address the shortfall.

The “work from home” culture is here to stay to some extent, and that will inevitably impact on footfall in city centres. The partnerships between councils, responsible bodies, Business Improvement Districts and operators are more important than ever. Working together to create vibrant city centres with innovative offerings, which will give customers the desire and confidence to return, is key.

Article from our North East Leisure Supplement 2022, produced in conjunction with Sanderson Weatherall.

Sarah Smith, Head of Licensing and Gambling at Sintons – sarah.smith@sintons.co.uk 0191 226 4897.

David Downing, Partner at Sanderson Weatherall – David.Downing@sw.co.uk 0191 268 0151

The Building Safety Act 2022

The Building Safety Act (the “Act”) received royal assent on 28 April 2022. The Act was introduced in response to the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 and aims to secure the safety of people in or about buildings and to improve the standard of buildings generally. The provisions of the Act apply to the lifetime of a building from the design and construction phase to subsequent occupation. Secondary legislation is required to implement various measures over the next 12 to 18 months but there are some provisions which have already come into force.

Building Act 1984

The Act brought into force Section 38 of the Building Act 1984 (“BA”). This section creates a statutory claim for breach of Building Regulations where physical damage has been suffered.

Prior to Section 38 coming into force, an injured party would only be able to rely on the following to bring a claim for damage sustained as a result of breach of Building Regulations:

  • an express term in a contract that the works will be carried out in accordance with statutory requirements;
  • an implied term that any works will be carried out in a good and workmanlike manner and using materials that are fit for purpose; or
  • an implied term that works will be carried out in accordance with Building Regulations.

It is important to note that it is only possible to pursue a claim for physical damage under Section 38, such as injury to a person or damage to a property, and pure financial loss is not recoverable.

A claim can be brought by anyone for up to 15 years following completion of the relevant works and these provisions apply to all buildings in England and Wales to which the Building Regulations apply.

Defective Premises Act 1972

Section 1 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 (“DPA”) imposes a duty on anyone undertaking works on a dwelling to ensure that the works are undertaken:

  • in a workmanlike manner;
  • using proper materials; and
  • so as to ensure that the dwelling is fit for habitation.

This duty is owed by the person undertaking the works to the person who commissioned the dwelling and every person who subsequently acquires a legal or equitable interest in the dwelling.

Section 1 only applies to the provision of a dwelling which can include the construction of new dwellings or the conversion of existing buildings into new dwellings. It does not apply to works undertaken to an existing dwelling.

The Act has extended the limitation period for claims under Section 1 of the DPA from 6 years to:

  • 15 years prospectively; and
  • 30 years retrospectively.

This means that claims can be made in relation to works that were completed up to 30 years prior to the Act coming into force.

Given the potentially huge liability for developers and contractors, the Act provides two safeguards for retrospective claims, namely;

  • if a claim breaches a defendant’s human rights it must be dismissed; and
  • any claim that has been previously settled or finally determined cannot be re-commenced as result of the extended limitation period.

The Act also brings into force a new Section 2A to the DPA which extends the scope of the Act to allow a party to bring a claim in respect of any works undertaken to a dwelling in the course of a business, such as refurbishment works to an existing dwelling. Claims pursuant to this section can only be made prospectively with a limitation period of 15 years.

Building Liability Orders

The Act has introduced the concept of Building Liability Orders which permit the High Court in England and Wales to extend the specific liabilities of a company or an LLP to an associated company or LLP so that they are jointly and severally liable for a claim under S38 of the BA, Section 1 and 2A of the DPA and any claim relating to a ‘building safety risk’.

For the purposes of Building Liability Orders, an associated company is a company which is controlled by another company or two companies which are controlled by the same third party, for example parent and sister companies.

A Building Liability Order can be made against an associated company notwithstanding that the company with the original liability has since been wound up or dissolved. This allows a claim to be brought where, for example, a special purpose vehicle is incorporated for the purpose of a specific development and subsequently wound up upon completion of the development.

The High Court can make a Building Liability Order where it considers it to be ‘just and equitable’ to do so.

Each of the above-mentioned provisions came into force on 28 June 2022 and clearly increase the potential exposure of building owners and developers to potential claims.

The team here at Sintons would be more than happy to assist with any commercial property enquiries.

Dumpling and Bun secures licence with support from Sintons

A popular Grainger Market eatery has secured a licence with support from Sintons, which will allow it to develop its offering even further.

Dumpling and Bun serves an array of authentic handmade Chinese dumplings and stuffed buns, and attracts a growing clientele to its central Newcastle site.

The venture had hoped to expand its offering to customers to include alcohol, with its owners believing Asian lager and Sake would complement its food menu.

Its application to Newcastle City Council attracted objections from the Licensing Authority, Police and Environmental Health Team, but through the support of the specialist licensing team at law firm Sintons, has since been approved.

The business is now able to diversify its offering even further through the addition of authentic Asian alcohol to its menu.

Dumpling and Bun was represented by Sarah Smith, head of licensing at Sintons and regularly acknowledged as one of the leading lawyers in the North of England.

“This is a well-known food business in the Grainger Market which has very much become part of the community there, and its dumplings and buns prove immensely popular with a wide clientele,” said Sarah.

“Securing a licence is not always a straightforward process, even when it may appear to be, and unfortunately Dumpling and Bun met with some initial resistance when they submitted their application.

“Through turning to us, we were able to support them in making a case as to why their licence would be a positive for the business, the Grainger Market and wider local area, adding further to the diversity and vibrancy it already enjoys and is known for.

“As a highly experienced licensing advisor, we can support on a wide range of contentious and non-contentious applications, with our unrivalled expertise ensuring we continue to be the go-to advisor for small businesses and multi-site leisure groups alike.”

Climbing Prices – How the Industry Responds?

Constructing Excellence in association with Sintons are holding a panel discussion ‘entitled ‘Climbing Prices – how the industry responds’. The discussion will aim to address the impact on the sector of rising costs and ways in which the construction industry might be able to respond to and deal with the issue facing us.

The session will be chaired by Alex Rayner, Partner of Head of Construction & Engineering at Sintons and the panel will include:

Thursday 30th June 2022.

McGovern & Co’s Andrew Pickersgill

– CA Group Andy Dickinson

Further speakers will be announced over the coming days! To register click here or if you have any questions, please contact Leanne leanne@cene.org.uk.

Smash and Grab Adjudication – Alive and Well

As most of you will already be aware, a “smash and grab” adjudication occurs where the paying party to a construction contract fails to issue the relevant payment or pay less notice in response to a valid application for payment, meaning that the ‘notified sum’ that must be paid is that contained within the relevant application for payment.

By contrast, a “true value” adjudication occurs where either party seeks a decision from the adjudicator as to the ‘true value’ of the works for the relevant payment period.  As opposed to a “smash and grab” adjudication, which is solely concerned with the technicalities of whether notices have been issued on time, a ‘true value’ adjudication seeks to establish the correct or true value of the works.

Without setting out the potted history of “smash and grab” versus “true value” adjudication in the Courts, the established legal position in relation to the interrelationship between the two is that:

  • having lost a “smash and grab” adjudication, a paying party may subsequently commence a “true value” adjudication to establish the correct value of the application for which it failed to issue the correct notices (S&T (UK) Limited v Grove Developments Limited [2018] EWCA Civ 2448); however
  • the paying party must comply with the “smash and grab” adjudication and make payment of the ‘notified sum’ before it may commence a “true value” adjudication (M Davenport Builders Limited v Greer [2019] EWHC 318 (TCC)).

To put this another way, the right to adjudicate “at any time” to obtain a true valuation of the sum due under section 108 of the Construction Act is subjugated or trumped by the immediate obligation to make payment of a ‘notified sum’ under section 111.

The recent case of Bexheat Limited v Essex Services Group Ltd [2022] EWHC 936 (TCC) has further reiterated the pre-eminence of the payment obligations under section 111.  The relevant facts of which are as follows:

Adjudication 1 – Bexheat secured a decision that on a “true value” basis it was entitled to payment in the sum of £141,646 in respect of its interim application 22.  ESG paid the sums due to Bexheat in full.

Adjudication 2 – ESG failed to serve a pay less notice in time in respect of the Bexheat’s interim application 23 (which had been issued one day before the commencement of Adjudication 1).  Bexheat was awarded £706,029.62 as a result of ESG’s failure to issue a timely pay less notice, on other words a classic “smash and grab” adjudication.

ESG failed to pay the sums awarded in Adjudication 2 and Bexheat sought to enforce the decision.  The following interesting points arise from Mrs Justice O’ Farrell’s judgment to enforce the decision in Adjudication 2:

  1. The Adjudicator in Adjudication 1 had jurisdiction as the disputes were not the same or substantially the same. Not only were they concerned with different payment periods but they were also different disputes in nature; Adjudication 1 expressly dealt with valuation whereas Adjudication 2 was solely concerned with whether ESG had served a valid pay less notice.
  2. In any event ESG had not raised any challenge to the adjudicator’s jurisdiction in Adjudication 2 and/or specifically reserved its rights, therefore it was taken to have waived any such challenge.
  3. ESG could not rely upon a clause in the contract seeking to permit it to set off or make deductions against an adjudicator’s award in respect of any amounts which may be due or have become due from Bexheat to ESG. Such a clause was contrary to section 108 of the Construction Act which provides that an adjudicator’s award is binding upon the parties until finally determined.
  4. ESG could not rely upon a clause in the contract providing it with the unilateral right to elect that the adjudicator shall be entitled to adjudicate on more than one dispute at the same time (the second adjudicator had refused to allow a ‘joinder’ of the true value of interim application 23 with the “smash and grab” Adjudication 2). This clause was contrary to paragraphs 8 and 20 of the Scheme for Construction Contracts which require the consent of both parties to a multiple dispute adjudication. Further, section 111 of the Construction Act precludes ESG from refer the ‘true value’ dispute in respect of interim application 23 prior to paying the “notified sum”.

ESG was also unsuccessful in its application to stay the enforcement, with the Court finding that Bexheat was a going concern and that its financial position was substantially the same as when it entered into the contract.

This judgment reiterates that a paying party must pay under a “smash and grab” adjudication before commencing or relying upon a “true value” adjudication.  Further, an earlier “true value” decision does not preclude the payee from commencing a “smash and grab” adjudication regarding a payer’s failure to issue the correct notices in a subsequent payment cycle, even where the true value of that claim has already been decided.

This is a timely reminder that paying parties and their representatives must ensure that the contractual payment notice provisions are complied with at all times, including following a “true value” adjudication.

For advice on these or any other construction and engineering related issues or support, please contact our team and we will be happy to help.

Pablo Eggsgobao secures licence with support from Sintons

A city centre bao bun cafe has secured a licence with support from Sintons, after initially attracting objections to its application.

The fantastically named, Pablo Eggsgobao is a social media-favourite haunt in Newcastle, with a sister site in Whitley Bay, which enjoys particular popularity on Instagram for its range of baos.

The cafe, on Blandford Street, had wanted to secure a licence to develop its existing offering into a ‘community hub’ and function space.

However, concerns were expressed by a local college that its application could exacerbate alleged issues with anti-social behaviour in the area. Initially, their bid to secure an alcohol licence was rejected.

Facing a hearing before the Licensing Sub-Committee of Newcastle City Council, Pablo Eggsgobao turned to Sintons and its specialist licensing team – led by Sarah Smith, widely acknowledged as the go-to licensing lawyer in the North of England – who represented them leading to the licence being granted.

Sarah successfully argued that through the investment Pablo Eggsgobao was committing to the site, it would attract the potential for further regeneration and other businesses to move into the area.

She told the licensing committee: “That is the experience they have had in Whitley Bay.

“When they opened their shop on Station Road, there were some social issues. Since they opened, other businesses have opened too on that street and it is very much a vibrant hub.

“Those problems have been eradicated.”

The business can now serve alcohol from midday until 11pm.

Sarah added: “Pablo Eggsgobao is a very novel business which has built a very strong following on social media, particularly on Instagram, and attracts a growing and vibrant following to its cafes both in Whitley Bay and Newcastle.

“While the client’s application attracted objection we were able to intervene and highlight the very positive contribution such a dynamic business would make through being able to expand its offering even further.

“It is great news this has been given approval and we wish the team the very best of luck in developing the business even further.”

The implications for landlords following the end of the moratorium

Partner and Head of the Agriculture, Estates & Rural Property department at Sintons, Tom Wills, alongside Real Estate solicitor Sam Watts, recently recorded a podcast where they discussed the implications for landlords following the end of the moratorium.

You can listen to it below.

Break Notices: Don’t Rely on Implied Terms – Wigan Borough Council v Scullindale Global Limited & Others [2021]

Background

In 2016, Wigan Borough Council (“WBC”) granted a lease to Scullindale Global Ltd (“SGL”) of Haigh Hall for a term of 199 years at a premium of £400,000 plus VAT. SGL planned to convert the property into a hotel and the lease included a provision whereby WBC had a right to break the lease and re-acquire the premises (at what would essentially be the market value) if SGL failed to complete the conversion by 23rd May 2018, in accordance with planning permission obtained prior to the grant of the lease.

On 16th September 2019, WBL served a break notice on SGL claiming that an event of default had occurred as they had not met the May 2018 deadline imposed by the planning permission.

SGL argued that any delay in completing the refurbishment works had been attributable to WBC. They also argued that a term should be implied in the lease to the effect that the landlord must serve a break notice within a ‘reasonable’ time following an event of default and not ‘at any time’. SGL maintained that by waiting 16 months, WBC had waived their right to break the lease on the basis of that default event.

The lease was due to terminate pursuant to the break clause on 22nd November 2019, however SGL remained in occupation after this date.

The Court’s Decision

The Court did not accept SGL’s argument that there should be an implied term that any break notice must be served within a ‘reasonable’ time rather than ‘at any time’ following an event of default. It confirmed that this would have created uncertainty and taking the words ‘at any time’ in their ordinary meaning would not result in an uncommercial situation.  The Court did, however, submit that it was implied that a break notice could only be validly served ‘at any time’ whilst an event of default still persisted, on the basis that ‘it goes without saying’ that the parties had intended to proceed on this basis.

Despite the implied limitation, the Court decided that an event of default had occurred as SGL had not completed the required works by the 23rd of May 2018 deadline and that this default was still subsisting when WBC served the break notice on 16th September 2019. It denied that any delay in the refurbishment attributable to WBC, as the local planning authority, should have any impact upon the lease which WBC entered into in its capacity as landlord. It was therefore determined that the break notice was validly served by WBC.

WBC also applied to the Court for mesne profits, which represented the sum of rent they could have obtained in respect of the property had SGL not remained in occupation after the expiry of the break notice on 22nd November 2019. The Court dismissed this claim on the basis that WBC had no realistic prospect of re-letting the property prior to the end of the Covid-19 lockdown and SGL had received no financial benefit by remaining in occupation.

Commercial Considerations

This case serves as an important reminder for tenants of commercial premises to ensure that careful consideration is given to any request by a landlord for the inclusion of a landlord’s break option. Further care must also be taken when agreeing the terms upon which the break option will be exercisable by the landlord. Whilst the Court was willing to imply a limitation on the break notice in this case, no reliance should be placed on this when negotiating the terms of a lease.

Tenants should consider whether it is appropriate to allow an open-ended break clause, i.e. one that does not have a specific time period for service of a break notice, where the break is conditional upon a trigger event, such as an event of default. Greater certainty can be provided to both parties if a deadline for service is provided e.g. no later than 3 months after the trigger event occurs. This is especially relevant in respect of longer leases where the trigger event could occur at any point within the term. These are discussions that should take place as early as possible, and preferably at the heads of terms stage, to ensure that all parties are comfortable with the provisions.

Here at Sintons we are specialists in advising both landlords and tenants on commercial lease terms and break options. We would be happy to discuss such matters with any existing or new clients.  If you have any queries or would like assistance in relation to a new or existing commercial lease, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team.

Sector body teams up with region’s law firms to promote inclusivity

In what is a rare industry move, a number of law firms in the region are collaborating alongside Constructing Excellence in the North East to promote a fairer and more diverse construction industry.

The sector body and law firms including Ward Hadaway, Muckle, DAC Beachcroft, Clyde & Co, Sintons, Weightmans and Womble Bond Dickinson, are working to ensure everyone, regardless of gender, feels valued in the region’s construction industry.

Whilst women account for approximately half of the UK’s workforce, ONS data compiled by the CITB suggest that the average number of women working in construction specific roles remains approximately 16%, of whom only 1% are employed in the trades.

Catriona Lingwood, chief executive at Constructing Excellence North East, said: “Officially launched in 2020, one of the stated aims of the region’s OneVoice construction strategy is to build a sustainable and inclusive construction sector and as part of this aim we have teamed up with and applaud those legal firms who are joining forces to discuss ways in which the legal sector can support gender inclusion in the construction sector, whether this be at entry level or senior management.

“Whilst we understand that plans are underway to adopt gender neutral language in the next suite of JCT contracts (The Joint Contracts Tribunal), a move which is welcomed, Constructing Excellence in the North East is delighted to be a co-signatory to this letter alongside law firms from the region, which signals a commitment to the use of gender-neutral language in the drafting of bespoke construction and engineering contracts and ancillary documents.”

Alex Rayner, Partner and Head of Construction & Engineering at Sintons, and Constructing Excellence North East board member, said: “It is not often that the legal sector get the opportunity to collaborate in this manner and I am very grateful to all the firms involved for their co-operation in this initiative.  The construction and engineering contracts we draft are used in projects of all shapes and sizes across our region and beyond and we believe that the use of gender neutral language within those contracts and ancillary documents is essential to promote and facilitate the diverse and inclusive construction industry that we all want to be a part of”.

Scream for Pizza licence extended with support from Sintons

A popular pizza and ice cream café, offering New York style pizza slices and homemade ice cream, on Newcastle’s Quayside has had its bid to extend its licence approved thanks to support from specialists at Sintons.

Scream for Pizza applied to extend its licensed hours from 7.30pm to 10pm, as well as to allow takeaway customers to purchase alcohol from the premises.

However, the business – which expanded from its initial site in Sandyford to open on the Quayside – faced some opposition to its plans from local residents, who raised concerns about alcohol-fuelled behaviour.

But with support from the specialist licensing team at Sintons, Scream for Pizza was successful in its application, gaining approval from Newcastle City Council’s licensing sub committee.

Represented by Sarah Smith – Sintons’ head of licensing and widely regarded as one of the leading lawyers in the North – she highlighted the quality of the restaurant and its offering, and its commitment to building an esteemed brand which would add to the area.

I Scream for Pizza is now able to extend its hours and scope of alcohol sales, which the business says will be an important diversification as it continues to recover from COVID-19 lockdown.

“Scream for Pizza is a high-quality brand which has two successful Newcastle sites, and we are very pleased to have been able to support them in their ambitions,” said Sarah Smith.

“While there was some opposition to their application, we were able to allay the concerns raised through highlighting the very positive impact, and thoroughly responsible approach, this business takes. It is an asset to the Quayside area and a leisure brand that looks set to continue to grow.

“We wish them the very best of luck for the future.”

Sarah Kilby, Group Operations Manager at Scream for Pizza said “We are very pleased with the outcome of our licence change and thank Sarah for her support and assistance throughout the whole process. Sarah’s help has allowed us to push our vision for the site forward and dramatically increase evening trade.”

Trainee qualifies as commercial property solicitor

A trainee solicitor has been rewarded for her efforts with a permanent role at Sintons after successfully completing her training contract.

Charlotte Johnston has qualified as a solicitor having joined Sintons as a paralegal in May 2019, commencing her training contract in September 2020.

She takes up a role in the firm’s highly esteemed commercial property team, having gained experience of working in the team during her two-year training period.

Charlotte also gained experience of the department through taking a role as a real estate paralegal at Sintons prior to beginning her training contract.

Charlotte will now begin her career as a specialist commercial property solicitor, working alongside some of the most highly rated and well-known lawyers in their field in the North of England.

“I am delighted to have become a qualified solicitor and to be given this opportunity with Sintons,” says Charlotte.

“I loved my time in real estate prior to, and during, my training contract, and it’s fantastic that I can now take up a full-time role with the team.

“The department has such strong experience and expertise that it is a dream role for me as a newly-qualified lawyer to build my career while learning from such amazing people. I look forward to working alongside my colleagues to build the department even further.”

Mark Dobbin, head of real estate, added: “Charlotte is an excellent young solicitor and we were very impressed with her capability and attitude during her time with us as a trainee. I am confident she will be a great asset to the team, and I am delighted we have been able to reward her efforts with this role.”

Agriculture and Estates offering continues to develop at Sintons

Specialists from across Sintons are helping to drive forward the firm’s specialist agriculture and estates team, which continues to grow its profile and case load across the North of England.

The team has built trust with rurally-based families and businesses over the course of generations, with Sintons’ presence in rural and farming communities spanning much of its 126-year history.

The firm’s legal expertise and outstanding client service has made it the legal advisor of choice for people across several generations of families and business ownership, and its presence continues to grow across the North of England on the strength of its reputation.

Bringing together expertise and leading lawyers from across a number of Sintons practice areas, the agriculture and estates team – headed by Tom Wills – has made significant gains in the past few years in particular.

The firm’s specialism is widely known and respected in what is a very niche area of law, where few firms are recognised as having the capability and knowledge to truly serve the unique needs of rural communities.

Bringing in expertise from a host of specialisms, Sintons offers bespoke support in family law, real estate, contentious and non-contentious private client work, dispute resolution, regulatory and business matters, and commercial work.

Key team members comprise Alan Dawson, the firm’s chairman who has been known for supporting rural families for over 40 years; Angus Ashman, Jay Balmer, Robert Burn, Paul Collingwood, Sophie Dodds, Cristina Falzon, Lauren Fraser, Elizabeth Gallagher, Louise Kelly, Paul Liddle, Amanda Maskery, Louise Masters, Emelie Rowell, Emma Saunders and Sam Watts.

“The capability of our team is there for all to see, and few other firms can come anywhere close to the decades of expertise, experience and reputation we have in our agriculture and estates offering,” says Tom Wills.

“For generations, we have been by the sides of families and businesses in rural and agricultural communities across the North of England, earning the trust of these clients so they stay with us over the course of many years. It is a privilege to be able to support them through hugely significant moments in the lives of individuals and families, and to be able to give our expert advice to benefit businesses.

“We continue to grow on the strength of our reputation and the outstanding legal and client service we deliver, and our instructions come from across the entire region, often involving matters of great complexity, which Sintons is well equipped to handle.

“The growth we have seen, and continue to see, is hugely positive and confirms the standing that Sintons has held for many years in this very specialist area of law.”

Real estate specialist joins Sintons

The real estate team at Sintons has added further to its expertise with the appointment of a new specialist.

Stephen Bennett moves to Sintons to bring new capability to its esteemed real estate department, which attracts instructions from across the UK and has a client base comprising some of the biggest property owners in the country.

He specialises in commercial landlord and tenant work, acquisition and disposal of freehold and leasehold property, and also acts for property investors.

The appointment of Stephen comes at a time of progress for Sintons’ real estate team – whose capability was again shown through its win of the Property Deal of the Year Award at the North East Property Awards 2021 – with its expertise across a range of property-related matters being sought throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sintons has a very strong reputation for its real estate work and its client portfolio really sets it apart from competitors and is an endorsement in itself of the quality and capability that exists within the team,” says Stephen.

“I am delighted to join and look forward to playing my role in building the department even further.”

Mark Dobbin, head of real estate at Sintons, says: “Our expertise has been in continual demand over the past two years on a wide range of matters arising from the opportunities and challenges of the pandemic, and we are keen to bring in new talent to support our work wherever possible.

“Stephen is a very capable young solicitor who we are very pleased to add to our team. We are known across the North of England and beyond for the significant expertise we have in the team, and are regularly involved in transactions of the highest levels of complexity and value, so adding to our team can only increase our capacity to be the choice for clients nationally in such matters even further.”

Sintons sponsors Point to Point

Law firm Sintons is continuing to show its support for rural communities by lending its support to a staple Northumberland racing event.

Sintons, a trusted name among rural and farming families and businesses across the North of England for generations, was a sponsor of the Men’s Open Race at the Point to Point racing event in Alnwick at the weekend.

The Point to Point event, a form of amateur horse racing which has taken place in Northumberland for decades, attracts racegoers of all ages from across the county and beyond and its meetings are hugely popular occasions.

Sintons – whose specialist agriculture and estates team is one of the leading names in the North, known for its specialist knowledge in a very complex area of law – added its support to the Percy Hunt in support of a key community event, which has been absent for much of the past two years.

Tom Wills, partner and head of agriculture and estates at Sintons, said: “The Point to Point is a much-loved longstanding event in Northumberland which plays a central role in the community. Amateur horse racing plays a role at the heart of rural life and has been much missed during the pandemic.

“It is fantastic to again see people gathering at these superb events and we are only too pleased to lend our support. As specialist and deeply trusted advisors to families and businesses across rural Northumberland for generations, we will always play our role in making communities as vibrant as possible, and key events like this are really important in doing that.”

Resources NE expands with new Tyneside academy

An organisation which has helped to train and upskill young people in the region for over 30 years is opening a new centre, to help create further opportunities in a sector particularly hard-hit by the impact of the pandemic.

Resources NE Ltd has overseen the training of thousands of young people since 1990 across Sunderland and South Tyneside, paving the way for them to embark on successful careers in areas from bricklaying to IT.

Operating from its head office in Southwick, in Sunderland, and its Resources South Tyneside base in Jarrow, the provider matches the needs of employers in the region with the skills required, ensuring vacancies are filled with fully-skilled young employees.

Now, Resources has opened its first base in Newcastle, which will focus on creating opportunities within the hair and beauty sector, which despite being devastated by the impact of COVID-19, is now emerging strongly.

Its base, at Amen Corner next to Newcastle Cathedral, will house its 1st Degree Hair and Beauty Academy, which will deliver training in hairdressing, styling, barbering, beauty therapy, massage and nail technician work.

Resources has devised an array of apprenticeships and traineeships for young people, supporting the city’s hair and beauty industry to continue its recovery by taking on trained staff. Some opportunities are also available for unemployed people to re-train for the sector.

“As we all know, the service sector, and especially hair and beauty, has taken a massive hit from COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns, being one of the first to close and one of the last to re-open,” says David Watson, managing director of Resources.

“Salon owners and students wanting to upskill and train have had 18 months of uncertainty which has affected their progress, apprenticeships, traineeships and their livelihoods, with some losing their positions and some salons closing up for good.

“Here at Resources, we want to help reinvigorate this industry through our new training centre. We will offer training and work experience to keen and ambitious young people wanting to get into this industry, and will support employers in recruiting new and enthusiastic staff.

“We’re really excited about the potential of our Academy and to supporting young people from across the region to achieve their ambitions and potential.”

Resources NE Ltd employer engagement manager, Nicola Taylor – herself an industry employer with apprentices – said: “ For the hair and beauty sector, things have already been as bad as they can get. We all need to keep looking forward, the situation is improving and we will come out of the other end with new opportunities for fresh new talent.”

Resources was supported in acquiring its new site by real estate specialists at law firm Sintons, who are the longstanding legal advisor to David and his team.

Real estate partner Tom Wills, and solicitor Sam Watts, oversaw the completion of the lease in the sought-after location.

“For more than three decades, Resources has been committed to raising aspirations among young people and giving them the skills and training they need to enjoy a successful career,” says Sam.

“It is absolutely fantastic news that now, at a time when opportunities for young people are often scarce as businesses continue to recover, the business is investing in their future. The Academy is a fantastic addition to Newcastle and the whole region and will support the development and progress of talented individuals wanting to work in hair and beauty.

“We are delighted to have been able to support David and the team with this expansion and wish Resources, as well as the many young people who will soon be training here, every success.”

A Rural Roundup with Tom Wills – episode 7

In episode seven of the Rural Roundup series with Tom Wills, Tom and Sam Watts from our Real Estate team discuss ‘right of way – landowners options’

Please click on the play button below to listen.

IMPORTANT UPDATE – DEFRA have recently announced the planned cut-off of 1st January 2026 for the recording of new rights of way to be included within the Definitive Map and Statement has been abolished. No new deadline has yet been proposed. More details are set to follow and we will communicate those in due course.

The Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill

On the 9 November 2021 The Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill was published and received its first reading in the House of Commons.

It is the aim of Government that this new legislation will become law by no later than 25 March 2022 and its purpose is to determine the extent, if at all, to which landlords of commercial premises must (a) write off accrued financial arrears payable under the terms of business leases which were caused by the legally enforced closure of business premises during the Coronavirus pandemic, and/or (b) allow extended periods of time for the payment of such arrears.

On the same day as the proposed new legislation was published, the Government also published a new Code of Practice for commercial property relationships to replace the existing code and which, while voluntary, invites commercial landlords and tenants to reach agreement on Covid-19 financial arrears using the same principles as the new legislation will legally impose upon them following 25 March 2022 if agreement cannot be reached.

While the proposed new legislation has yet to complete the full legislative process, it is unlikely its basic terms and principles will be materially altered.

The key points of the new legislation are:

1. The legislation and the protection intended for commercial tenants relates only to a ‘protected rent debt,’ which is defined as being arrears of rent, service charge, insurance, VAT, and interest on late payments which are payable under a lease of business property and which were caused by the legally enforced Covid-19 pandemic public health closures of businesses in England during the period between 2pm on 21 March 2020 and 11.55pm on 18 July 2021. For businesses in Wales the protected period is between 21 March 2020 and 7 August 2021.

2. The legislation allows for arrears of protected rent debt to be (a) written off in whole or in part, (b) for additional time to pay such arrears up to a maximum of 24 months from the date of any decision, and (c) for contractual interest on the late payment of such arrears to be reduced, potentially to 0%. One or more of these remedies can be found to apply to the protected rent debt otherwise payable under a business tenancy.

3. Where landlords and tenants cannot agree upon how protected rent debt will be dealt with, Government approved bodies can be approached by either side to appoint a suitably qualified independent arbitrator to determine what, if any, relief there will be for a tenant with protected rent debts.

4. While the period may be extended by Government, any reference to arbitration of a dispute over a protected rent debt must be made by either the tenant or the landlord within at most 6 months of the new legislation becoming law. Tenants and their advisers will need to carefully monitor this deadline for seeking remedies in relation to protected rent debts.

5. Neither a landlord nor a tenant can refer a dispute over a protected rent debt to arbitration unless they have first given the other side notice of their intention to do so and allowed up to 28 days for the other side to respond.

6. The reference to arbitration must include (i) the referring party’s proposals for how the protected rent debt should be dealt with, and (ii) their accompanying documentary and verified witness evidence to which the other party must respond with their own proposals and evidence within 14 days. The parties then have up to 28 days to put forward any revised proposals and further evidence.

7. While the dispute can be resolved by an arbitrator based on the written evidence and submissions alone, either side can request an oral hearing. Oral hearings will be held in public unless the parties agree that such hearings should be in private and must take place within 14 days of a request by a party for such a hearing.

8. Arbitrators must make their awards as soon as reasonably practicable after receiving each sides’ final proposals and evidence and within no more than 14 days of an oral hearing. The decisions of Arbitrators must be made public.

9. Unless in the circumstances of a particular case the arbitrator directs otherwise, the parties will (a) equally pay the appointed arbitrator’s fees and expenses, which the Government may seek to impose limits upon, and (b) will pay their own professional fees of the arbitration process.

10. An arbitrator can only make an award giving relief to a Tenant if their business is either ‘viable’ or would be viable if one or more of the remedies available was granted. Failed or failing businesses which cannot continue trading irrespective of any assistance they receive with a protected rent debt are not to be assisted by the legislation.

11. Arbitrators when deciding what, if any, remedy to grant to business tenants are required to make their decisions based on 2 principles, (a) that the purpose of any award is to preserve the viability of business tenants or to restore them to viability in so far as that allows a landlord to remain solvent, (that is, so that a landlord is able meet their debts as they become due), and (b) that tenants should pay the sums due under their leases in so far as this is consistent with preserving or restoring their viability.

12. Arbitrators when determining the application of the 2 principles will need to consider and the parties will need to provide evidence of their respective (i) assets and liabilities, (ii) of a tenant’s payment history, (iii) the impact of Covid-19 on the tenant’s business, (iv) any other leased property owned by a landlord, and (v) any other financial information an arbitrator considers relevant.

13. An Arbitrator will disregard anything done by either party to manipulate their financial position to improve their prospects of a favourable award, for example, excessive dividend payments, and will, when determining either a tenant’s viability or a landlord’s solvency, disregard their capacity to borrow money or to restructure their businesses.

14. Landlords cannot seek to legally enforce the payment of protected rent debt through the Court system, commercial rent arrears recovery (‘CRAR’), forfeiture of a lease, by using a tenant’s rent deposit, or through insolvency proceedings during ‘the moratorium period’ which is the later of 6 months from the date the legislation becomes law or the conclusion of the arbitration process in a case.

15. When the legislation becomes law, this protection from the legal enforcement of a protected rent debt will be considered to have applied as from 10 November 2021. Landlords who are using or have used court processes to obtain money judgments on protected rent debts and which remain unpaid will not be able to enforce these following the legislation coming into force and during the moratorium period.

The legislation is intended to create a rapid legal process for determining how the burden of Covid-19 related commercial rent arrears will be divided between landlords and tenants and to require the parties to put forward reasoned and evidenced arguments on what proposals will allow viable businesses to continue but at the same time maintaining landlord solvency.

While such terminology is not used in the legislation, the emphasis in the Code of Practice is on what is ‘affordable’ by both sides with account being taken of a tenant’s anticipated credit/debit balance sheet value, business performance since March 2020, assets, government assistance received (including loans and grants), and dividend payments to shareholders.

Only the determination of several such disputes within what is intended to be a public process is going to provide precise guidance as to how the arbitration process and Arbitrators will treat such protected rent debts and above all how the term ‘viable’ will be interpreted, the legislation and the Code of Practice deliberately declining to define such a term and leaving it to be decided on the facts of each case.

Landlords may seek to argue that provided a tenant’s business will remain solvent, that is, able to pay its debts as they become due, even if a tenant is required to pay all Covid-19 arrears owed, that the tenant’s business is viable and should therefore be forced to pay in full. Landlords will argue that large commercial business tenants with consequently more substantial reserves and resources should be forced by arbitrators to pay protected rent debts in full.

A viable business however is more than one that is basically solvent. A viable business is one that can maintain acceptable net profit margins in its market sector, can provide a competitive rate of return to its stakeholders, that is, employees and investors, can invest and diversify as opportunities arises, and accumulate and maintain reserves.

While the legislation specifically defines solvency it does not define viable, and that expression is likely to be determined to mean more than solvency. While the legislation only requires landlords to be kept solvent in such disputes, arbitrators are required to keep business tenants viable.

The period during which such disputes must be referred to arbitration in the absence of agreement is going to be relatively short and the referring party is going to need to give the other party prior notice and set out its proposals before the dispute can be referred to arbitration.

Landlords and Tenants, and particularly tenants need to be considering their financial evidence with their accounting and legal advisors sooner rather than later and ensuring that they will be able to put forward their reasoned and supported proposals as to why protected rent debts should be waived, paid over a period, and should not bear interest. Such proposals need to be based on financial evidence of what is affordable by them and taking account of how the expression ‘viable’ is likely to be interpreted and applied.

Landlords with real solvency issues will need to evidence these but even where their solvency is not jeopardised, Landlords, particularly those with large retail, hospitality and commercial portfolios, should be scrutinising and requiring disclosure of such tenants’ financial position and emphasising (a) such tenant’s pre-Covid-19 trading and financial histories, that returns to stakeholders cannot be expected to be fully maintained during a time of crisis, and the likely reserves available to such tenants, and (b) the second principle arbitrators must apply that business tenants should be made to pay their historic financial liabilities under leases in so far as this is consistent with maintaining their viability.

Angus Ashman is a Partner in our Dispute Resolution department at Sintons. You can contact Angus at angus.ashman@sintons.co.uk or on 0191 226 7823.

‘Excellent track record’ of licensing team praised by Chambers

The licensing team at Sintons has again been confirmed as a leader in its field by Chambers and Partners, which praises its “excellent track record”.

Sintons’ licensing specialists are longstanding trusted advisors to some of the leading leisure operators regionally and nationally, with new clients continually being added on the strength of its work and reputation.

Chambers 2022 highlights Sintons’ strength in a host of licensing matters, including obtaining licenses in cumulative impact zones and acting across sectors including sexual entertainment, retail, leisure, and food and drink.

Contested licensing issues are a “particular strength”, it states, and is adept in securing and advising on temporary licenses.

Sarah Smith, named by Legal 500 as being part of its Hall of Fame – which comprises lawyers who have excelled in their specialist field consistently for many years – is also hailed as a go-to advisor by Chambers.

She is said to be “routinely called upon” to handle significant and high-profile matters including premises license applications, as well as variations and revocations.

“I always found her to be very prompt and, most importantly, very aware of the challenges of our industry,” Chambers quotes.

The latest praise for Sintons’ licensing capability comes only weeks after the publication of Legal 500, which similarly found the firm to be a leading name in licensing in the North of England.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “Our licensing team is known nationally for its specialism, which makes it the advisor of choice for increasing numbers of major leisure operators.

“Sarah and her team are absolutely committed to supporting their clients in every way possible, through what can be very contentious public licensing matters, and deliver an absolutely first-rate legal and personal service throughout.

“We are very pleased that Chambers has again confirmed us as a leader in licensing, which is well-deserved and rightful recognition of our standing in the marketplace.”

‘Comprehensive’ offering from real estate team praised by Chambers

 The real estate team at Sintons has won praise from Chambers and Partners 2022 for its “comprehensive” legal offering and “impressive” array of clients.

The specialist department, widely recognised as a leader in the North of England, is again hailed by Chambers for its experience in matters including acquisitions and disposals and landlord and tenant work.

Its expertise spans sectors including residential, retail, agriculture and healthcare, and Sintons’ client base comprises significant property owners with interests throughout the UK.

Sintons’ completion of the acquisition of the Sir John Fitzgerald Group for its client Ladhar Group – recently named as Property Deal of the Year at the North East Property Awards 2021 – is hailed by Chambers as a deal highlight.

It quotes client testimonials which attest Sintons’ quality of service, with one saying the firm offers a “very well-run team that is always there for us and always comes through”.

Head of practice Mark Dobbin and partner Paul Liddle are both named as notable practitioners in real estate in recognition of their significant experience and expertise in the specialist field of work.

Chambers’ findings echo those of Legal 500, published only weeks ago, which similarly independently verified Sintons’ commitment to delivering legal and service excellence to its clients.

“The fact our real estate team counts some of the biggest and most significant names in property on a national basis as longstanding clients speaks volumes about the standards we operate here at Sintons,” says managing partner Christopher Welch.

“We are absolutely committed to delivering the highest standards of legal and service excellence to each and every client, and by having the size and quality of team that we do, we can ensure this is the case in every transaction, even those of the highest complexity.

“It is very pleasing to again be recognised for our capability and client commitment independently, most recently by Chambers and previously by Legal 500, both of which have highlighted our expertise in real estate for many years. We are very proud of the reputation we have built and will continue to advance that even further.”

‘Expertise’ and client service in Construction & Engineering team praised

The outstanding legal and client service delivered by the specialist Construction & Engineering team at Sintons has been highlighted by Chambers and Partners 2022.

The department, hailed for its “expertise” in both non-contentious and contentious construction matters, provides “great support informed by their diverse experience”, the independent legal publication states.

“Sintons are motivated to do their best for the client. Great individuals working as a team,” it quotes.

The team, which has grown its national presence and client base strongly over recent years, is known for supporting clients with the design and negotiation of construction contracts, redevelopment work and adjudications.

Among its many notable work highlights, Chambers points to its involvement in the £52m Ark Soane mixed-use development in Acton, West London, where it drafted the construction agreements on behalf of contractor Jerram Falkus Construction.

Alex Rayner, head of the department, is again hailed as a notable practitioner for his work across a range of matters, contentious and non-contentious.

“He gives great legal advice to people who aren’t lawyers by explaining things in a digestible way,” quotes Chambers.

The strong praise for the team comes only weeks after similar assessment was made by Legal 500, which also pointed to the quality of legal advice and client service from Sintons’ Construction & Engineering specialists.

“Our construction team has progressed strongly over recent years and we now rightly have a national reputation for the quality of our advice and client service,” says Christopher Welch, Sintons’ managing partner.

“We are involved in major construction projects on a national basis, acting for clients across an array of sectors, with more appointing Sintons all the time on the strength of the outstanding job we do on our clients’ behalf.

“We are delighted this has again been recognised by Chambers, which echoes the findings of Legal 500 in attesting the quality of the service we deliver. Construction & Engineering continues to be an area of strong progress for us and we are very pleased with this latest independent endorsement of what we are doing.”

Sintons again recognised for capability across the board by Chambers 2022

Sintons has again been hailed as one of the leading law firms in the North of England in newly-released rankings from Chambers and Partners UK.

The firm, consistently praised for its strength and capability throughout the business, again wins recognition for its legal expertise, deep experience and first-rate levels of client service.

Practice areas across the business win recognition as leaders in their field, with healthcare again being confirmed as one of the key advisors nationally for its work with growing numbers of NHS Trusts, organisations, professionals and healthcare businesses across the UK.

Chambers and Partners 2022, published today, also highlights 17 of Sintons’ lawyers as being stand-out names in their specialism, many of whom are recognised in the legal marketplace as being leading figures regionally and nationally.

The rankings come only weeks after Sintons won similar praise across the board from Legal 500, which also recognised the wide-ranging expertise, legal capability and service excellence the firm delivers to its clients.

Both Chambers and Legal 500 are independent publications which assess and rank law firms and lawyers throughout the UK, based on interviews, examples of work, and client and peer testimonials.

“For over 125 years, Sintons has built a well-deserved reputation as a first-rate legal advisor delivering outstanding levels of service to its clients, and those values have remained at the heart of the firm since our foundation in 1896,” says managing partner Christopher Welch.

“That these key features are consistently highlighted by independent legal publications like Chambers and Partners, and recently Legal 500 too, is a huge endorsement of what we do here at Sintons. Businesses, families and individuals put their trust in us to deliver an outstanding legal and personal service and that is what we deliver.

“Chambers again confirms our strength across the whole Sintons business, with capability and talent running throughout the firm, and a shared commitment by everyone here to continue to build Sintons so it can be the best it can be. We are all delighted to again have our efforts recognised in this way.”

Legal 500 praises Sintons for agriculture and estates work

The agriculture and estates team at Sintons has again been hailed as a key advisor in its specialist area by Legal 500 2022, with significant expertise and experience within its ranks.

The team has grown significantly in the past few years, building on over 120 years of advising farming and rurally-based families, and is now a central player in estate and agricultural tenancy work.

Legal 500 points to its expertise in such areas, highlighting its work in acquisition and disposal of large farming ventures, agricultural holdings and significant development projects, as well as assisting with the registration of portfolios of mines and minerals.

It has also been instructed by a number of coal and wind farm sites in the North East in an endorsement of the team’s specialism in energy and renewables, Legal 500 notes.

Tom Wills, head of agriculture and estates, is praised for his focus on estate and tenancy work, and partner Paul Liddle is also highlighted for his years of experience in acting for developers and landowners in the energy, waste and renewables sectors.

“Our client base in the rural and farming communities of the North East and Cumbria dates back more than a century, and Sintons is a trusted name among countless families having supported them with both personal and business affairs for generations,” says Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons.

“Coupled with that, we have a strong and growing specialism in estates and renewables work, which sees us involved in many of the major land projects in our rural communities. To see this capability again recognised by Legal 500 is a rightful endorsement of the work we are doing, both with existing and new clients.”

‘First class’ real estate team hailed by Legal 500

The “first class” real estate team has again won praise from Legal 500 2022 for its breadth of expertise and standards of client service.

The team is known as being one of the biggest and most capable in the region, handling transactions on behalf of major clients nationally, and Legal 500 again points to its wide-ranging specialism.

Healthcare is a key area of work for the team, with Legal 500 pointing to its many client relationships and panel appointments in the sector, where it acts for NHS Trusts and specialist care providers on site acquisitions and disposals, as well as development projects.

Real estate finance is also an area of strength, as is rural property work, which Legal 500 points to as a “bedrock” of the practice, particularly with regard to high-value agricultural assets and land transactions.

Practice head Mark Dobbin and partner Paul Liddle are “highly experienced” in development projects and portfolio management for large investors, and partner David Ferguson wins praise for his real estate finance work.

“Outstanding” Tom Wills, head of agriculture and estates, is highlighted for his work in leading on rural land mandates.

Partner Alok Loomba and senior associates Louise Kelly, Catherine Davies and Chris Jackson are also named as key figures in the department.

Client testimonials cited by Legal 500 point to the team’s legal and client service expertise, with one saying: “The team that I have the pleasure of dealing with is first-class. The strengths of the team are its very high-level and detailed knowledge of property transactions”.

Another says the team has “excellent lawyers; dedicated, creative, problem solvers, 100% per cent reliable”.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “Our real estate team is again independently confirmed as a leading player in this field on the strength of our client base in a host of sectors and the quality of service we deliver on every occasion. This combination is at the heart of everything we do at Sintons, so to again be recognised for this is fantastic and something we take great pride in.

“We couldn’t be the firm we are without our people and we are delighted to see so many from our real estate team named as key figures in this specialist area – the capability we have here is first-rate and for the breadth and depth we have in our team to be recognised by Legal 500 again is a great achievement.”

Sintons once again wins praise from Legal 500 2022

Law firm Sintons has again maintained its reputation as one of the leading law firms in the North of England in newly-released rankings from Legal 500, winning plaudits for its strength and expertise across the firm.

Legal 500 2022, released today, renews its praise of Sintons and confirms them as being a go-to legal provider in the region in many key practice areas.

The independent publication – which ranks law firms and lawyers across the North, compiled as a result of examples of work, interviews and client and peer testimonials – names eight of Sintons’ lawyers as leading individuals, three as next generation partners and a further six as rising stars. One of its lawyers also secures the highly coveted accolade of being named in the Legal 500 Hall of Fame, in recognition of consistent achievement throughout their career.

The latest Legal 500 rankings add further to the long-standing reputation of Sintons – winner of five awards at the most recent Northern Law Awards, including overall Law Firm of the Year – as a leading player in the North of England, with national reach and capability in many of its departments.

The leading individuals at Sintons, as identified by Legal 500, are:

The next generation partners, as identified by Legal 500, are:

The lawyer named as member of the Legal 500 Hall of Fame is:

The rising stars at the firm are:

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “We are very proud of the reputation we have built during our 125 year history as being a law firm which consistently offers legal excellence and an outstanding service to our clients, and for these two factors to again be recognised by Legal 500 as being a staple of Sintons’ offering is very pleasing.

We are delighted to maintain our position as one of the leading law firms in the North of England, with strength, capability and experience running throughout our practice areas.”

Ladhar Group acquisition, completed by Sintons, wins Property Deal of the Year

An acquisition of a leisure group completed by Sintons on behalf of a long-standing client was last night named as Property Deal of the Year at the North East Property Awards 2021.

The Sir John Fitzgerald (SJF) group, a key operator on the region’s leisure scene since the 19th century, was bought by Ladhar Group in December 2020, and was hailed as one of the most significant leisure and property deals in any climate – but particularly during such difficult times for the leisure scene amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deal, which saw Ladhar Group taken on all 16 of SJF’s properties across the North East, was completed by property specialists at Sintons, the long-standing advisors to the Ladhar Group.

The acquisition retained ownership of the SJF brand within the North East, and also ensured fast-growing Ladhar Group play an increasingly central role in the ongoing development of Newcastle’s leisure economy. The group already owns some of the city’s most desirable venues and is behind ambitious city centre regeneration plans.

It was named as winner in its hard-fought category at the North East Property Awards, organised by Insider Media and held last night, in one of the biggest awards events held in the region since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.

Judges were impressed with Sintons’ efforts in completing such a significant transaction, particularly in such a challenging climate.

The deal, one of the highest-value property deals in the region during 2020, had to be completed in a particularly tight timescale, and had the additional challenges of a 16-property transaction being completed remotely.

However, the transaction, led by real estate partner Alok Loomba, was completed successfully for the client within the timeframe, and marked the latest step in its growth to be supported by Sintons. The law firm has supported Ladhar Group for many years and continues to be its advisor of choice.

“We are absolutely delighted this acquisition has been named Property Deal of the Year, it is rightful recognition of our client’s ambition and vision in making this purchase, and we are very pleased our role in this has been recognised,” says Alok Loomba.

“This was a bold step by Ladhar Group, particularly during a climate when leisure was one of the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic, so to purchase an entire group and add that into a portfolio showed great courage but also shows the willingness of our client to invest in the North East economy, protecting jobs and driving our vibrant leisure scene even further forward.

“Admittedly, this was a complex transaction, comprising 16 properties across the region and the ongoing COVID restrictions meaning everything had to be done remotely, but our expertise and experience as a team ensured we were able to meet the very tight timeframe for completion. We are very pleased indeed this has been recognised with the Property Deal of the Year.”

A Rural Roundup with Tom Wills – episode 6

In episode six of the Rural Roundup series with Tom Wills, Tom and Sam Watts from our Real Estate team discuss ‘public rights of way – changes to the the definitive map.’

Please click on the play button below to listen.

IMPORTANT UPDATE – DEFRA have recently announced the planned cut-off of 1st January 2026 for the recording of new rights of way to be included within the Definitive Map and Statement has been abolished. No new deadline has yet been proposed. More details are set to follow and we will communicate those in due course.

Electrical safety standards in residential properties

The vast majority of landlords across England take seriously their responsibility for ensuring that the electrical appliances contained within their rental properties remain in good and safe repair. However, the introduction of the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 has further extended landlords’ obligations to ensure that electrical safety standards are uniformly high across the entirety of the private rental market.

The Regulations came into force on 1st June 2020, and as of 1st July 2020, they have applied to all new tenancies granted. This transitional window has now closed, and as of 1st April 2021, the Regulations now apply to all relevant tenancies. A relevant tenancy is defined by the Regulations as a residential tenancy in England, granting one or more persons the right to occupy part or all of the premises as their main residence. There must be payment of rent and the tenancy should not fall within one of the exceptions included within the Regulations. The exceptions are contained within Schedule 1, and include social housing, student halls, hostels, long leases and care homes.

It is therefore now the case that all private landlords must ensure they are complying with the Regulations by ensuring that every electrical installation is inspected at regular intervals of no more than five years by a person qualified to do so. This also includes the requirement to ensure that the first testing is carried out before the commencement of any new tenancy or, as of 1st April, an inspection is carried out at the premises of all existing tenancies.

The landlord is further obliged to provide the inspection report to each tenant within 28 days of the test being carried out, and to hold a copy of the most recent report until the next inspection is carried out.

The Regulations state that the inspection must be carried out by a ‘qualified person’. This is defined as someone who has the necessary training and qualifications to assess electrics and wiring, and is also covered by a professional insurance policy.

At present, the Regulations do not extend to requiring landlords to PAT test all portable appliances, but PAT testing is often a requirement in a property which is operating under a licence. If the inspection report highlights that any remedial work is required, this should be carried out by a person qualified to do so within 28 days of the inspection, or within a shorter period should the report stipulate this. A confirmation is then required from the qualified person to confirm that the remedial work is complete, and the property has passed the inspection.

The introduction of the Regulations is evidence of the Government’s attempt to improve safety standards in the private rental sector. Electrical safety is a matter which ought to be taken seriously by landlords. Compliance with the new Regulations is important, not only to avoid the potential £30,000 fine which may be imposed for a breach, but also to assure tenants that the electrical installations at the premises within which they reside are both safe and secure.

Forfeiture post 30 June 2021 – the road to recovery?

The Coronavirus Act 2020 has imposed significant restrictions on landlords’ remedies for recovery of outstanding rents. Since 26 March 2020 any forfeiture of most business tenancies by proceedings or by peaceable re-entry on the grounds of non-payment of any sums due under the lease has been suspended. Consequently landlords have been unable to exercise a right to forfeit a lease based on non-payment of rent since 26 March 2020.

It seemed that the road to recovery of these outstanding sums including rent arrears could be in sight with the restraint imposed by the Coronavirus Act 2020 being due to expire on 30 June 2021.

However on 16 June 2021 the Government announced that it intends to extend the restrictions on rent-related forfeiture of business tenancies by 9 months to next year’s March quarter date, 25 March 2022. Although the statutory instrument extending the restrictions to 25 March 2022 could be negated by a vote in either House of Parliament, it seems unlikely.

In addition the Government intends to introduce an entirely new Act of Parliament to deal with the accrued rent arrears of businesses which had to shut during the pandemic. The new Act of Parliament will force landlords to waive some of the total amount or agree long-term repayment plans with their tenants. In default of such agreement it is intended that the new legislation will provide a binding arbitration process so that landlords and tenants can reach a formal agreement in relation to the rent arrears.

We will have to watch this space and await the detail of the draft Bill in order to fully understand the effect of these proposals on the recovery of rent arrears.

As the suspension only applies to forfeitures based on non-payment of rent, a landlord could still exercise a right of forfeiture based on any other grounds by way of peaceable re-entry where possible or by commencing proceedings for forfeiture of breaches other than for non-payment of rent or other sums due under a lease. However a landlord needs to be careful to ensure that force is not used against anyone present in the premises, that any eviction is carried out lawfully and that the correct procedure in terms of the service of a notice on the tenant is followed.

Aimee Hubbard is an Associate in our Dispute Resolution team at Sintons. To speak to Aimee about this topical matter, contact her on 0191 226 3792 or aimee.hubbard@sintons.co.uk.

First Homes – changes to affordable housing

After the Government’s consultation last year on securing an affordable housing product that will make it easier for first time buyers and key workers to step on to the property ladder its housing initiative ‘First Homes’ ‘was introduced for registered providers on 28 June 2021.

The intention behind the change is to facilitate, subject to being able to satisfy the eligibility criteria, individuals being able to acquire a dwelling locally and at an affordable price. A pilot scheme has been operating in Bolsover and the market information is that demand is likely to be high, with properties being snapped up quickly by eligible purchasers.

The ‘First Home’ scheme requires the allocated dwellings to be sold with, at least, a 30% discount on the open market value. That will last in perpetuity; it will bind subsequent buyers who will also receive the same % discount. This indicates that the Government has learnt from the lessons of the past where affordable housing stock has been substantially diminished under ‘right to buy’, without any obligation to pass the discount forward on future sales.

The discount level can be increased by a local planning authority, under the local plan process, up to a discount of 40% or 50% That would be based on need and viability, which may occur in more expensive areas. The percentage can also be reduced, if there is appropriate justification. The changes are to be incorporated in the National Planning Policy Framework and will require at least 25% of all affordable housing to be ‘First Homes’, with the Government’s preference being that the next 25% will be social rented units. That will only leave the remaining balance for other affordable home ownership types. The impact of this change has yet to be seen but the concern is that with the number of properties available for other types of affordable housing registered providers may struggle to increase its housing stock from new build developments, as part of the affordable housing allocation.

The initial targets that have been set are to achieve 1,500 First Homes in 2021, with around 10,000 being the end goal.

In terms of the end purchaser there is eligibility criteria which includes being a first time buyer (that excludes those who have inherited properties) and having a combined income below £80,000, increasing to £90,0000 in London. The scheme will not apply to all dwellings; there is to be a price cap. Properties over £250,000 (increasing to £420,00 in Greater London) after the discount has been applied will not be included.

The position on local connection is not clear. The likelihood is that the criteria will be established by each local planning authority, as it the case at present. The Government’s preference is to have consistency across the country in delivering First Homes, as part of section 106 planning agreements. However, that may take some time to achieve as there is likely to a wide disparity in local connection requirements across the regions, particularly in areas of high tourism and holiday homes.

This is certainly a marked change to affordable housing but there is still time to take a step back and consider the position. The initiative won’t apply to sites that already have planning approval or a decision is likely to be granted before 28 December 2021 nor sites where there has already been significant pre-application engagement. For those the transitional period is until 26 March 2022.

Sintons appointed to £52m West London development

Construction & Engineering specialists at law firm Sintons have been appointed to support the creation of a £52million development in West London, which will bring vital new education and residential provision to the area.

Ark Soane is a mixed-use development in Ealing, which will comprise a new 1,200-pupil secondary school, Ark Soane Academy, alongside 116 new homes.

The development’s unique design will see the secondary school occupying the first three floors of the six to 12-storey buildings, with 113 apartments located above this, in addition to three separate townhouses on the site.

The project, which has secured full planning permission, is being delivered by developer Countryside and Jerram Falkus Construction. It is expected to be completed next year, with Ark Soane Academy due to open to pupils in September 2022.

Jerram Falkus, which has secured the design and build contract to deliver all construction works associated with the school and residential development, appointed construction experts at Sintons to handle the legal aspects of its involvement.

The specialist Construction & Engineering team at Newcastle-based Sintons has built and developed a relationship with Jerram Falkus over many years, with partner and head of department Alex Rayner acting for the business on a number of significant projects.

Alex said: “We are delighted to have advised Jerram Falkus on this exciting project.

“Given the scale of the project and the number of stakeholders involved the negotiations were extremely complex and it is really pleasing to see this over the line so that construction work could commence.

“We look forward to seeing the project progress and ultimately provide much needed school places and residential properties.”

William Jerram, managing director of Jerram Falkus Construction Limited, said: “Contract negotiations were fascinating with all the different stakeholders. Work had to progress at risk to change the faҫade from curtain walling to brickwork, while simultaneously amending planning and entering straight into contract at full speed.

“We would not have achieved this without the hard work, help and commitment of Alex and his team at Sintons.”

Real Estate Update – July 2021

Welcome to your Real Estate Update – July 2021 from Sintons.

This Real Estate Newsletter is issued following a period of national crisis and great uncertainty, at a juncture where the population finally sits on the cusp of relaxation of social distancing restrictions. Hopefully, the latter will encourage vitality across the market as a whole, and particularly within those sectors that have suffered heavily as a result of lockdown. Setting aside the buoyant residential market, real estate has, contrary to expectations and many predictions, held up reasonably well during the past 15 months, however certain sectors have certainly experienced unprecedented challenges.

Notwithstanding the impact of the pandemic upon those involved in the licenced trade, our Leisure Team has concluded several significant deals over the last 6 months including the acquisition of the long established Sir John Fitzgerald pub chain by the Ladhar Group. The team has also been pleased to welcome Darlington Football Club to their growing number of sporting, rural and leisure clients.

Over the next few months, the property sector will see the tapering and conclusion of the stamp duty holiday incentive. Time will tell how the real estate sector navigates a path forward and out of the pandemic over the months to come, as furlough ends and businesses face up to realities, with less government intervention. It will be interesting to observe what further initiatives and economic incentives may follow. Non-payment of rent is likely to come into sharp focus for many, whilst commercial entities recalibrate with the continued possibility of trading difficulties in the post-pandemic world. In this Newsletter, we look at the options open to landlords in relation to rent arrears.

Amongst other current topics we touch on changes to Affordable Housing provisions and separately scrutinise the potential implications for leasehold repairing obligations where asbestos is present.

For the Real Estate team at Sintons, business continues, as usual and we look forward to continuing to work with and support our clients and even perhaps meeting some of them in person as the world returns to “normal”.

Please click here to view the full update.

Best wishes,
Mark Dobbin, Head of Real Estate.

Delay & Liquidated Damages

Construction & Engineering specialists at Sintons recently delivered a ‘delay and liquidated damages’ online webinar, held in association with Constructing Excellence in the North East (CENE).

Alex Rayner, head of Construction & Engineering, and solicitor Jay Balmer discussed issues relating to delay and liquidated damages in construction and engineering contracts.

They also gave practical tips as to claiming and assessing extensions of time.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

Sintons supports acquisition of The New Golden Bird

A Chinese takeaway which has been at the heart of its community for over 40 years is under new ownership, with its purchasers already investing in its modernisation.

The New Golden Bird has operated in Gateshead since the late 1970s and has now been purchased by David Zhang and Jolin Lin.

David has worked in kitchens of Chinese restaurants for over two decades, and he and Lin most recently owned a takeaway in Sunderland.

Now, the couple have invested in their new venue on Gateshead’s Coatsworth Road, and even in their first few weeks of ownership have introduced a new menu, inspired by modern flavours and choices in Chinese cuisine.

They have worked closely with the outgoing owners of the New Golden Bird in the transition to taking over in their own right.

“This has always been a family-owned business and we know how important it is to the community, it’s a lovely business that David and I are really pleased to become owners of,” says Lin.

“The previous owners have helped us a lot, they still come in and support us and that’s lovely. I think it shows the kind of community we have here, we’ve had a great reception.

“David has worked in the kitchen for over 20 years and we also previously had a takeaway in Sunderland, so we have the all-round experience for taking on this new business. We learned a lot during our first time of owning a business and now we’re all set to take the New Golden Bird forward.

“We’ve changed the menu quite a lot, we have gone from a Chop Suey house, which is more old style, to modern Chinese dishes and flavours. It’s been a big thing for us but a lot of the people who have come here for years feel really happy with it.

“The first few weeks have been very good, this was a big step for us but I’m pleased we have done it.”

David and Lin were supported in their purchase by real estate specialists at law firm Sintons, with partner Tom Wills and trainee solicitor Sam Watts completing the acquisition.

“It is always quite a task taking over a popular business which has been under the same ownership for many years, but David and Lin are paving their way very successfully,” says Sam.

“They are already putting their own stamp on their venture and their experience and knowledge of this industry will no doubt ensure they continue to make new innovations and introductions if they feel they are needed, to make the New Golden Bird a successful local business for many more decades to come.

“We are really pleased to have supported them in their purchase and wish them every success for the future.”

Adjudication – one contract or two?

Adjudicator’s awards are temporarily binding unless and until the dispute is finally resolved by litigation or arbitration, and the Technology and Construction Court (TCC) has developed a streamlined process for enforcing decisions that have not been complied with, by way of a summary judgment application. Essentially, this is where the case is decided without a full trial, because the Defendant cannot demonstrate that it would have a real prospect of successfully defending the claim at trial.

Challenges to an Adjudicator’s award are rarely successful, however those challenges which do succeed are often decided on the basis that the Adjudicator acted outside of his or her jurisdiction. Under the Scheme for Construction Contracts (the Scheme), it is well established that an Adjudicator cannot deal with multiple disputes without the consent of the parties, whether those disputes arise under the same contract (Paragraph 8(1) of the Scheme) or related disputes arising under multiple contracts (Paragraph 8(2) of the Scheme). In Delta Fabrication & Glazing Limited v Watkin Jones & Son Limited [2021] EWHC 1034 (TCC), the Court had to decide whether the dispute that had been referred to adjudication arose under two separate sub-contract orders, or alternatively that the parties had agreed to combine those orders into one single contract.

The Facts

Delta was engaged by Watkin Jones to provide cladding and roof works as part of the construction of student accommodation. The cladding and roof packages were let to Delta under separate sub-contract orders some months apart, each with a separate sub-contract reference number as per previous dealings between the two parties.

A few months into the sub-contract works, Watkin Jones issued a single payment notice showing a combined figure due to Delta under both of the sub-contracts. The payment notice was supported by a table which set out the separate calculations for the value of works performed under each sub-contract. This format continued from that payment notice onward and Delta followed a similar practice of combining its payment applications for the two sub-contracts with each one supported by separate calculations.

A dispute arose regarding an alleged repudiatory breach of the sub-contracts and Delta made a single referral to an Adjudicator. Watkin Jones was ordered to make payment to Delta and when the Adjudicator’s award was not complied with, Delta applied to the TCC to have it enforced by way of summary judgment.

Arguments and Court Analysis

Watkin Jones contested the application on the grounds that the Adjudicator did not have jurisdiction to deal with multiple disputes, referring to the existence of two separate sub-contracts which Delta were claiming for.

Delta made three distinct arguments:

  1. The Contractor made an offer to vary the contracts

By combining the payment notices for both sub-contracts into a single document, Watkin Jones had made an offer to vary the contracts by amalgamating them into one. Delta contended that it had accepted the offer by issuing its request for payment under both sub-contracts in one document.  As such, the Adjudicator was acting within his or her jurisdiction.

The Court was clear that combining the payment applications was not the same as combining the two contracts into one. Watson J pointed to the separate calculations for each sub-contract set out in the first combined payment notice and those notices and applications issued subsequently, finding that there was no confusion or amalgamation of the sub-contracts. Instead, Delta would need to show a more specific intention to combine the contracts themselves, rather than just the administration of those contracts. The Court was unable to find any such intention in the evidence that was presented.

  1. The sub-contracts had become one contract for the purposes of the Construction Act

Delta further argued that, where the sub-contracts have been administered as one, they would qualify as a single contract for the purposes of the Construction Act. That is to say, by treating the contract as one for the purpose of the payment mechanisms, the parties had elected to treat it as one contract for the purposes of the adjudication provisions.

The Court’s deconstruction of Delta’s argument found a proposition that the usual common contractual formalities of offer, acceptance and consideration needed to vary a contract at common law were not required for the contracts to be amalgamated for the purposes of the Construction Act. This was rejected and Watson J again found that the parties had not unequivocally administered the contracts as one due to the detailed breakdowns of sums due under each sub-contract.

  1. Delta had relied on the Contractor’s representation that the contracts should be treated as one and, as such, Delta has a claim in estoppel

Delta’s argument was that Watkin Jones had represented, by the combined payment notice, that the sub-contracts were to be treated as one contract, Delta had relied on that representation and that Delta has suffered a detriment as a result.

The Court had already determined that the combined payment notice did not show an intention to combine the contracts and that, by the same reasoning, there was no such representation. Watson J did not find any evidence that Delta had relied on such a representation and, in respect of the detriment, failed to see how Delta would have incurred any additional costs as a result of treating the contracts as one. Indeed, Watson J noted that Delta would have likely made a small saving.

Outcome

The central theme of Delta’s arguments was that the combination of the sub-contracts for the purpose of administering the payments thereunder amounted to an amalgamation of those contracts into one. The Court failed to agree with that analysis, instead finding the clear breakdown of the amounts due under each sub-contract suggested otherwise.

The Court concluded that the Contactor had a strong prospect of successfully defending the claim on jurisdictional grounds and refused to grant summary judgment.

Comment

This case provides a useful reminder of the difficulties that can arise when trying to administer two separate contracts for the same project, with the same parties.  Our advice would be:

  1. To ensure that there is only one contract for the project with the second package of works perhaps being agreed as a variation to the first; or if that is not possible
  2. To ensure that the separate contracts are dealt with entirely separately, with separate payment applications and notices, in an attempt to make it easier to deal with them independently in the context of a dispute.

Fundamentally and as with a lot of disputes we see, problems arise where the parties do not have a clear understanding of the precise nature of the contractual relationship between them.  In this instance greater clarity in this regard may have prevented the parties from an expensive and ultimately futile reference to adjudication.

For advice on this or any other construction and engineering related matters, please contact our team and we will be happy to help.

Double award shortlisting for Sintons

Law firm Sintons has been shortlisted in two categories of the North East Property Awards 2021, in recognition of the prominent role it has played in the region’s commercial property scene over the past year.

Sintons, widely regarded as one of the most capable property advisors in the North of England, has been named as a finalist in the Property Law Firm of the Year category. The shortlisting comes after Sintons was again involved in several major property deals during 2020 on a national basis.

The firm has also been shortlisted in the Property Deal of the Year category, which recognises its role in the acquisition of the Sir John Fitzgerald Group by Sintons’ longstanding client Ladhar Group.

The deal was the biggest leisure deal in the North East of 2020, retaining ownership of the century-old SJF brand in the region and strengthening Ladhar’s portfolio further as the hospitality sector emerges from the pandemic.

The North East Property Awards has become known as the flagship property event of the year in the region, recognising and rewarding businesses and individuals working within the sector and highlighting the ambition and investment being made in the North East’s commercial property scene.

The awards event will be held on July 8 and will be one of the first major black tie events to be held post-lockdown.

“We are very proud of the reputation we have built over many years for the expertise we have in our department, which enables us to handle the most complex of transactions for significant property owners throughout the UK, as well as for building longstanding relationships with such clients, which sees us routinely supporting them over many years with many significant milestones for their business,” says Mark Dobbin, head of real estate at Sintons.

“This double shortlisting in the North East Property Awards is yet more independent endorsement of the work we do and the highest standards we continually deliver. Despite the many challenges of 2020, we have been by the sides of our clients whenever they needed us, completing highly complex transactions in very short time-frames – all while working remotely – but have delivered on every occasion.

“The Sir John Fitzgerald acquisition is a case in point of the work we do – we have supported the Ladhar Group for many years, supporting them throughout their continual growth, and we are delighted to have been able to complete this highly significant transaction for them as they look to lead the region’s hospitality sector out of lockdown.

“We are very pleased with this latest recognition from the North East Property Awards and look forward to attending the event – to gather with our contemporaries and colleagues from the region’s property sector, like we always used to, is something we are all looking forward to immensely.”

Rural podcast series launched

A series of podcasts is being launched by Sintons’ specialist agriculture and estates team, as they continue to support and interact with the region’s rural community during the ongoing lockdown.

The podcasts will provide regular updates on pertinent issues for families, land and business owners in rural and agricultural settings across the North, continuing Sintons’ reputation for supporting such clients over the course of generations.

The firm has, over its 125-year history, become known as a specialist advisor to the region’s rural communities, supporting families and businesses with many significant events during their lives and journeys.

Now, as Sintons continues to strive to engage and support them despite ongoing social distancing measures, the firm has launched its Rural Roundup, which will see head of agriculture and estates Tom Wills delivering relevant updates.

The specialist agriculture and estates team has already launched a series of initiatives over the past year, to communicate with existing and potential clients during lockdown, including a newsletter and regular commentaries. The podcast series is the latest move in this ongoing effort.

It is also the latest digital innovation from Sintons during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen the firm channel significant resources into making information available online and free of charge over the past year.

“Since March last year, while our usual interaction with the rural community has been forced to scale back, we have been absolutely committed to ensuring they know we are here as usual and available to support them whenever, and with whatever, they need,” says Tom.

“We’ve had a great response to our newsletter and the content we’ve produced, and through this Q&A series, we are stepping up the interaction with existing and potential clients as we prepare to emerge from the pandemic and move forward together.

“In doing so, there will be much new guidance and changes to keep on top of, so through our podcasts, we can help people to do that. We look forward to interacting digitally on this project, ahead of hopefully recommencing our traditional face-to-face meetings in the not too distant future.”

The case of Trecarrell House Ltd v Patricia Rouncefield- Residential landlords’ ability to use no fault eviction procedure after late service of gas safety certificate

The recent majority ruling of the Court of Appeal in the case of Trecarrell House Ltd v Rouncefield is a welcome decision for landlords.

The Gas Safety Regulations 1998 impose obligations on residential landlords to manage the risks associated with gas appliances. In the case of Trecarrell House Ltd v Rouncefield, the Court of Appeal was asked to consider the relationship between the Gas Safety Regulations 1998, and s.21 of the Housing Act 1988. S.21 provides landlords with a no-fault ground for possession against an assured shorthold tenant, if the landlord is in breach of a requirement contained in s.21A. One of the requirements referred to in s.21A is reg.36(6) of the Gas Safety Regulations 1998. Regulation 36(6) operates to ensure a landlord has provided a current gas safety certificate to a tenant prior to occupation (36(6)(b)). The landlord should also provide a copy of any subsequent certificate to the tenant within 28 days of inspection (36(6)(a)).

Trecarrell House Ltd v Rouncefield concerned an assured shorthold tenancy, granted to Rouncefield, the tenant, in February 2017. Upon the commencement of the tenancy, Ms Rouncefield was not provided with a gas safety certificate by her landlord, Trecarrell House Ltd. In November 2017, she was provided with the relevant certificate, which was dated January 2017. In May 2018, Ms Rouncefield was served notice under s.21, and Trecarrell House issued possession proceedings. The Tenant defended this notice on the basis that she had not been provided with a gas safety certificate prior to taking occupation. Ms Rouncefield claimed this left the landlord in breach of regulation 36, thus unable to serve notice on the basis of s.21.  The Deputy District Judge dismissed Ms Rouncefield’s defence and granted the possession order. However on appeal, the Circuit Judge allowed the defence, on the basis that the landlord could not remedy the failure to provide the gas safety certificate before occupation.

When the matter progressed to the Court of Appeal, the Court concluded that the Landlord’s late compliance to provide the Tenant with a copy of the most recent gas safety certificate, pursuant to reg.36(6)(b)) was not sufficient to prevent the Landlord from providing the Tenant with s.21 notice. The Court held that the correct interpretation of the relationship between the Regulations and s.21A was that the time period for presenting a tenant with a certificate contained within reg.36(6)(a-b) did not apply. So long as a landlord has served a copy of the most recent gas safety certificate on the tenant before they serve the s.21 notice, possession proceedings can go ahead.

The Court of Appeal also issued an additional reminder to landlords regarding the importance of providing tenants with a copy of the most recent gas safety certificate before occupation, or within 28 days of inspection. A landlord’s failure to fulfil their obligations under the Gas Safety Regulations 1998 is a criminal offence. However, given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which may have caused a delay in gas safety tests going ahead, the Court’s decision in Trecarrell House v Rouncefield will likely provide some relief for landlords.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any business matter, please contact us.

A law firm for changing times

While the foundation of Sintons did not occur during a particularly prosperous time for British agriculture, happily we have gone on to enjoy better times since then, with our team being by the sides of farming families and business owners since 1896.

Back in the late 19th century, at a time our economy continued to suffer from the Great Depression of British Agriculture, Sintons was born.

Many a challenge has followed that time for our community – from World Wars to Brexit, climate change to a deadly global pandemic, and seemingly everything between! – but our farmers have remained steadfast and committed to their purpose, and have enabled British agriculture to be an industry we can all be proud of.

And for the past 125 years, Sintons has been proud to have been the trusted advisor to ever-increasing numbers of farming families across Northumberland, Yorkshire, County Durham and Cumbria, turning to us for expert advice and personal service time and again.

This month, we mark our 125th year in business – from starting life as Sutton Cheshire & Thompson on February 8, 1896, we then merged with John H. Sinton & Co in 1971 to become Sinton & Co, and later Sintons.

And while much has changed with the Sintons business, and indeed in the world in general, we have never lost our ethos which many liken to a ‘family business’ – we care deeply about our clients and invest the time to build long-lasting and trusting relationships. We recognise the value of personal service, in addition to the legal excellence our clients expect, and that will always be a staple of our approach.

Over the years, the law around agriculture has changed on many an occasion – as we all know, the sector is subject to much legislation, but there have been a few key points during the past century-and-a-quarter to help create the industry we have now.

The Agriculture Act of 1947 is often cited as revamping agricultural law. Providing food security after the impact of World War 2, it guaranteed prices, markets and tenure, so a farmer could be assured that his land would not be taken away and whatever he grew would be sold at a known price.

That new certainty provided the basis for farmers to grow and invest in their operations with renewed confidence, and many of our clients confirm the kickstarting of the progress of their own family businesses can be traced back to that Act.

The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1976 marked another far-reaching piece of legislation. This allowed for the succession of agricultural tenancies, so on a farmer’s death, a relative with relevant skills or experience and no holding of his own could inherit the tenancy,  limited to two generations of tenant. Again, in terms of its impact and the renewed security it provided to families, it was a landmark moment for the sector.

The Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 also remains highly significant and important in providing more detail around the operation and curtailment of such rights.

What lies ahead remains to be seen, particularly as we emerge from the ‘double whammy’ of coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crippling effect that has had on the economy straight into the unknown of Brexit.

But our team at Sintons will be by the sides of clients, old and new, to support them through the turbulence, just as we have been for the last 125 years. We are proud to be a law firm for changing times, with our dedication to clients being a constant factor throughout whatever the future may hold.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.

Pullman Foods: Repairing obligation at yield up and the extent and effect of the presence of asbestos

In the recent case of Pullman Foods Ltd v The Welsh Ministers and another [2020], the High Court was asked to consider whether a tenant’s failure to remove asbestos-containing materials from a site amounted to a breach of the yield up covenant contained within the lease.

Most commercial leases will impose an obligation on the tenant to keep and return a property in good repair and condition, often to the satisfaction of the landlord. Pullman Foods was the tenant of a piece of land at Swansea Dock, and built a number of cold storage buildings on the premises during the early 1970s. In 2013, the Welsh Ministers, who held the reversion of the lease, served a s.25 Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 notice on Pullman to terminate the lease. Pullman did not seek a new tenancy and vacated the premises in 2015. As Pullman vacated without demolishing the buildings, two successive licences were granted to BFS, Pullman’s parent company, to enter the premises in order to remove the cold storage buildings. However, asbestos-containing materials had been used during the construction of the buildings in the 1970s. Upon their demolition, adequate precautions were not taken regarding safe disposal of the asbestos-containing materials, which resulted in the land subject to the lease becoming heavily contaminated.

In 2019, Pullman began proceedings against Welsh Ministers, claiming compensation stemming from the termination of their tenancy in accordance with s.37 of the 1954 Act. Welsh Ministers did not object to this, however did raise a counterclaim regarding Pullman’s failure to fulfil their obligation under the yield up covenant, and BFS’ breach of licence.

The yield up covenant in the lease required Pullman to return the site ‘in good and substantial repair and condition to the satisfaction of the landlord’. The High Court found that use of the word ‘condition’ imposes an obligation on the lessee which goes beyond strict repair. Although the Court stated that Welsh Ministers did not have absolute discretion to decide the standard which met good condition, they did confirm that they had the freedom to form their own judgement so long as it was reasonably held. Pullman’s failure to safely remove the buildings directly resulted in contamination of the land, meaning the site was not returned in a condition which could reasonably be considered in ‘good and substantial repair’.

The Court found Pullman to be in breach of covenant, in that they did not return the property in good condition by failing to demolish the buildings. BFS were also held to be in breach of licence, as although there was no express obligation to comply with the covenant in the lease, it had failed to remove building remains containing asbestos. They had also failed to inform Welsh Ministers of the presence of contaminated material. BFS were deemed responsible to the Welsh Government for the full costs of remediation, whilst Pullman was liable for damages as a consequence of breaching the yield up covenant contained within the lease.

This case highlights the importance of due diligence regarding remediation. Tenants should ensure that they understand their obligations contained within the lease, in order to be able to comply with yield up covenants. Such obligations may require significantly more action and repairs than anticipated. The Court did also note that even if the asbestos had been present before the grant of the lease, the yield up covenant would still apply. This demonstrates the importance of undertaking environmental due diligence, to identify contamination and hazardous building materials before entering into a lease. No doubt, this will provide a tenant with the opportunity to consider their obligations, in order to protect themselves from costly remediation works when exiting a lease

If you would like any further information or to discuss any business matter, please contact us.

‘We’re proud to have helped make Sintons the firm it is’

As Sintons celebrates its 125th anniversary, some of its team share their thoughts and experiences of being part of the firm and playing their role in its growth. From those who have been at Sintons for over 30 years to those who have joined more recently, here they discuss what makes the firm stand out in the competitive legal marketplace, while also being a great place to work.

Amanda Maskery, partner and head of NHS healthcare

“I have been at Sintons now for nearly 20 years and during that time I have progressed from trainee to partner level and more recently to head of our fast-growing NHS Healthcare team. Many of my clients have been with Sintons for years and grown with me and I think a large part of that is because we have built such strong and trusting relationships with them.

The firm has grown significantly since I first started working here – it has doubled in size.  However, the same culture, values and traditions are still imbedded which means whilst the firm changed in size, it still embraces the supportive nurturing culture you only find at Sintons which cascades from the top down.

As I began life as a trainee at Sintons, it’s fantastic to be able to support others in progressing and achieving their goals. We have a strong team and great dynamic and that is evident to our young lawyers who bring with them a refreshing approach to the Sintons culture.”

Leah Greenwell, solicitor apprentice

“Starting my career, it was important to find a firm with local roots and a reputation for providing high quality training. The first-class levels of service Sintons provide is testament to the standard of training they deliver, and there was no question which firm I wanted my career to start in.

Sintons have always focused on ensuring that my development is put first and have laid the foundations for a successful career as a solicitor. Being a full service firm has given me the opportunity to experience all areas of law and has exposed me to a variety of high value and complex work. I look forward to what the future holds for me at Sintons.

Although the marketplace is competitive, Sintons longstanding history and their presence, both locally and nationally, will always place them at the forefront.”

Anne Smith, secretary

“I started at Sintons in 1986 and this year in November will have been here for 35 years.

I still remember my first day like it was yesterday. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and it is still like that today – almost like a second family to me.

“I have mainly worked in private client and worked for lots of fee earners and partners. In 2000 I started working for Steve Freeman who then went on to become a Partner and Head of the Private Client Department. I have now worked for him for 21 years this year and I can honestly say it has been a pleasure and an honour to work for such a lovely man – we have a great working relationship. I also work with the rest of the Family Department and work for such lovely fee earners.

I am also very proud to say that my daughter Emma also works for Sintons in the Conveyancing Department and she also loves her job and the team she works with.

I have seen many changes over the years but one thing remains constant – Sintons is a great place to work. I have made lifelong friends here and they will remain so.”

Emelie Vardon, solicitor

“Sintons’ heritage was very important to me when choosing to join Sintons. I came here as a trainee solicitor in 2017 and making the right choice for my future career was crucial. Knowing Sintons’ reputation and history, I couldn’t have made a better decision.

This is such a great place to work with a warm and welcoming environment. Following the completion of my training contract in 2019, I joined our developing Wills, Trusts and Estate Disputes team. Under Emma Saunders’ excellent leadership and support, my first year as a qualified solicitor has been excellent groundwork for my future career in this specialist area of law.

As a full-service law firm, I consider that Sintons is well-placed in the competitive market.”

Mark Dobbin, partner and head of real estate

“I joined Sintons as a trainee in September 1997. At the time the firm consisted of about 80-90 people. We were operating from an office in Portland Terrace in Jesmond, it was like a rabbit warren for a new starter as it was multiple old terraced houses converted and joined on different floors.

The main changes have been the massive growth in size and expertise, plus multiple office moves until finally landing at the Cube. When I qualified in 1999 myself and the partner at the time (Andrew Walker) were the Sintons commercial property department. Since then we have grown significantly.

Sintons has always been and remains a great place to work, we have an excellent team in Real Estate and will continue to succeed because of the efforts of our staff.”

Pippa Aitken, senior associate

“Sintons was much smaller when I joined in 1998. It was a friendly, family firm renowned for its reputation in private client and personal injury work. There was no dedicated corporate and commercial department.

“I was the only trainee and was sent on all sorts of weird and wonderful jobs – witnessing wills, attending infant settlements and the odd trip to the bank for the accounts department!

Sintons has become a lot more sophisticated in its working procedures and there is a much faster pace of life with emails being the most popular form of communication. I have seen some great lawyers leave and some great lawyers arrive but everyone soon seems to inherit the ‘old’ Sintons sense of fun, respect and teamwork.

Sintons is in a great place going forward. Virtual working has opened up some great opportunities to spread our wings and engage with clients even better than before.”

Sarah Smith, partner and head of licensing

“The firm has almost doubled in size since I started in  2005. The range of services offered by the firm has expanded quite significantly since then too, making the firm much more attractive to commercial clients.

When I first came to Sintons, I headed up the department with Lucy Winskell (now chair of NELEP and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Northumbria University). Since her departure I have headed it up myself. In spite of that, the department has grown in its client base and the amount of work we deal with on an annual basis.

With the growth in size and services we continue to see, I think Sintons are very well placed in the market to take advantage of opportunities going forward.”

Astrid Stevenson, secretary

“I joined Sintons on 21 October, 1997, and will have been here for 25 years this year.

I think when I started there were only about 80 people working at Sintons. We were based in Portland Terrace then moved to Osborne Terrace. We didn’t have open plan working like we have now, we had little rooms with approximately 3 secretaries in each room. I shared a room with Anne Smith from the first day I arrived and we have been firm friends ever since. Fee earners all had their own office. Basically, it was like a rabbit warren.

The staffing levels were very much smaller then, as I say about 80 staff then and now we have more than double that number. The computer system (Word Perfect 5.1) and equipment were top of the range for the time, and I think that has carried on until this day, our IT department have the latest of everything and are basically top notch.

Since I started 25 years ago, the firm has changed and has always moved forward with the times.  When I started there were no female partners. Hilary Parker and Karen Simms became the first, which was a very welcome breakthrough for Sintons.

We were like one big happy family with lots of social events, which thankfully still happen to this day, keeping the ethos of Sintons going.

I think if I didn’t enjoy working here I wouldn’t be celebrating my 25th years this year at Sintons. I’ve worked for the head of dispute resolution Angus Ashman for 24 of those years, and I think we work well together because we work as a team.

This is a very nice place to work, the people are all friendly and If anyone needs help with anything there is always someone there to help. I always think we are only as good as the tools we work with and I must say Sintons do provide all the best equipment and people and it makes the job so much easier if you have things like that in place.”

Sintons’ development – reflections from the Chairman

Sintons’ chairman, Alan Dawson, is one of the firm’s longest-serving people, having joined in 1980. Here, he shares his thoughts on some of the biggest changes and advances he has seen in the past 41 years.

Technology

When I joined in 1980, we used manual typewriters, although thankfully electric typewriters had recently become available. There were no screens at that time, but over the years we added one-line screens to the typewriters, then that went up to three or four lines. It was the early 1990s before we introduced computers.

There were no colour photocopiers so all of the plans we copied were in black and white. We would have to go over them with coloured pens to make them the same as the original.

The introduction of fax in the 80s was a game changer, everything before then was done by Telex or telegram if we needed ‘instant’ communication. The only problem was that due to the paper fax machines used at that time, the print would fade – we’d go back to the file six months later and the sheet would be completely blank! We had to remember to photocopy the fax when they came in for use in our records.

With property completions, all bank-to-bank transfers involved getting an actual cheque from the bank, and then going to the office of the other solicitor in the transaction to inspect the deeds and then complete the deal. Fridays, the traditional completion day, were often spent going between solicitors’ offices in Newcastle.

When mobile phones were introduced, we had one mobile for the firm to use, we didn’t have one each. It was one of the brick-like phones with a huge battery, but it was a huge novelty.

Thankfully things have moved on hugely, and Sintons now has a first-rate technology and IT infrastructure, which enables us to offer a very efficient service to our clients while keeping their data fully secure.

Size of the firm

Back in 1980, we had about 36 people – now we have around 170.

We really started to grow from the mid to late 90s, and in 1998 we moved our offices from Portland Terrace in Jesmond to bigger premises in Osborne Terrace, which comprised three and a half houses next to each other with an overspill office further down the road. We imagined that would give us room to grow for the next 15 years – but within the next two or three years, it was already too small.

We came to The Cube in 2004 and at first didn’t use the top floor of our four-floor building, although within the next couple of years we had expanded into there.

Over the years, we have added many outstanding lawyers to our team, both through recruitment from other firms as well as training young people-in house. Our commitment to supporting aspiring lawyers through their training contract has been unfaltering – I joined as an articled clerk (or trainee, as it’s now known) and have progressed through the ranks.

As the firm has grown then so too has our back-office and support functions developed. We didn’t have the infrastructure we have now, so no HR, IT or marketing department.

Our accounts system was all manual, the cashier had to write everything by hand. There was one card per client, so if you had to borrow it, then they couldn’t make any more entries for that client until you returned it.

Our HR function was our office manager, who kept a record of who was off and the reasons for their absence – reading it now, some of the reasons are quite amusing!

Law firms weren’t allowed to advertise at all until the late 1980s, so the only kind of marketing we could do was through the Yellow Pages. Now, we operate at the very forefront of the sector, adopting digital way before many of our competitors, and that early investment is helping us to stay ahead in the marketplace.

Practice areas

In the 1980s when I joined, Sintons had a very significant insurance litigation practice which acted for four or five of the major national insurers. The revenue from that area of the business probably accounted for two thirds of our entire income. However, in the early 1990s, we recognised that reliance on a few large clients or a particular work stream was not the best way to develop the firm and could make us vulnerable. We therefore made concerted efforts to radically change our business model and to further grow the other practice areas we had operated in for many years, including private client, corporate and commercial and real estate, and they proved to be areas of strong development for us. They continue to be key areas of the business for us and will be central to our ongoing progress as a firm.

We also moved into claimant personal injury work, which really took off in the late 90s and early 2000s. More recently, we have developed our national reputation as specialists in catastrophic and serious personal injury work with a thriving specialist neurotrauma department which handles life-changing brain and spinal cord injury work.

National reach

In the early days, we were more of a regional firm with clients mainly across the North East, and some in the wider North. Occasionally, clients moved to elsewhere in England which helped us to reach out nationally on a small scale, but we didn’t have much of a national reach.

However, as we grew as a firm, we started to work on a more national basis and now on an international basis as well. The improvement of technology was also an important factor in enabling us to communicate with people wherever they were by phone or fax, but more recently by mobile phone, email or even video calling which has proved so important during the pandemic.

Through our efforts to grow individual areas of the business – which in many instances have demonstrated substantial growth over the course of a number of years, underpinned by the hard work of our people – we have been able to add outstanding new lawyers to the team, whether they have moved to Sintons from elsewhere or have been trained in-house.

Now, we have a number of areas of the business which are regarded in the highest terms nationally, including our healthcare team, which has grown its presence over the past 10 to 15 years to become a national leader in its field.

We continue to receive growing numbers of instructions from across the UK and wider afield in almost all areas of the business, as our capability and reputation as a firm builds further still.

Building on our heritage to create a strong future

1896 marked a year of historic new beginnings and breakthroughs.

The year that saw the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens;

The introduction of the X-ray;

The development of the first Ford vehicle, the Quadricycle.

And in such a landmark year as 1896, with events taking place which went on to change history, it is fitting that this was the year when Sintons was founded and the foundations laid for the firm that it would become.

Having been founded as Sutton Cheshire & Thompson on February 8, 1896, to serve the people of Newcastle, the firm then merged with John H. Sintons & Co in 1971 – later becoming Sintons – and has grown into one of the leading law firms in the North of England, acting for ever-increasing numbers of business and private clients both regionally and across the UK.

Over the past 125 years, Sintons has developed a reputation for the quality of its advice, and crucially, the deep and trusting relationships it builds with its clients borne out of the outstanding service it delivers to them.

There are so many momentous events and developments which have taken place over such a long period of time and the world has changed, and continues to change, beyond recognition.

However, throughout that period Sintons has been working alongside individuals, families, businesses and organisations for 125 years, adapting and changing to meet new challenges and will continue to do so for the years to come.

As a law firm for changing times, Sintons continues to evolve, as it has done since 1896, to ensure it stays at the forefront of the legal market and in the best possible position to deliver excellence to its clients.

“Over the past 125 years, we have continually shown we are innovators, we are leaders. We have never been afraid to take bold decisions,” says Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons.

“A great example of this is when we invested in our head office, The Cube, in 2004. We were moving to an area of the city which was largely undeveloped and were, largely, surrounded by the old Scottish and Newcastle plant. Looking around us now, this is a thriving, fast-growing and sought-after area, which is the site of huge investment from both business and academia. We had the foresight to buy into these brave future plans and the ambition to want to become part of it.

“In these changing times, we will continue to evolve and develop, as we have done throughout our history, to ensure that at all times we are delivering the very best service to all our clients while also building and investing in the firm from within.

“We have stood the test of time for 125 years and are committed to ensuring Sintons maintains the reputation and presence that has been built so carefully into the future.”

For Christopher, who joined Sintons in 2003, the main differentiator between Sintons and its competitors is its unfaltering commitment to clients.

While continuing to attract new clients nationally, the firm is rightly proud of its longstanding client base, which includes many who have been with Sintons through multiple generations of their family or business ownership.

“The firm’s absolute priority from day one has been our clients and ensuring they receive the highest standards of legal and personal service. Our reputation is built on those foundations, which were laid by our previous generations of Sintons’ lawyers, and is one we are proud to continue to develop further,” says Christopher.

“At Sintons, we care about what we do, how we do it and we never forget that the clients we are working with are depending on us for, often, some of the most momentous decisions of their lives. As a firm, we recognise both the privilege and the responsibility that goes with this, it is fundamental to how we work and to our values as a business.

“Our clients are the front, back and centre of everything we do. We’ve been there for them whenever they’ve needed us for 125 years and that will continue to be the case as we move forward.”

And building further on its reputation for leading the way in the legal marketplace, Sintons continues to innovate to stand out from the crowd.

Having carried out a full rebrand in early 2020, to give the firm a fresh yet timeless identity, Sintons continues to invest in its future.

“Our rebrand was a significant step for the firm,” says Christopher. “Our branding represents the firm that we are; bold, innovative and providing clear and confident advice to our clients – a firm that stands out from the crowd.

“The use of technology to better serve our clients has always been an essential part of our growth strategy. Our founding partners would be aghast at the thought that we were able to have virtually all our colleagues working remotely – with some as far away as the Cayman Islands and Texas – without any impact on client service.

“By investing heavily in our website and online presence, we have created a resource which is available to clients wherever they are in the UK or indeed the world, giving them immediate access to information and support in ways which weren’t available before.

“The legal sector isn’t always the first to embrace change, but we are rightfully proud of the reputation we have built for standing out in that respect. For 125 years, we have taken bold moves, we have never shied away from making investment to equip the business for the long-term, and we have shown foresight and innovation to make the firm what it is today.

“This is a landmark anniversary for us, and in uncertain times, the investment we have made for many years in our infrastructure, development of our people and strategic recruitment means we remain confident in our future and the service we can continue to provide to our clients and to the regional community of which we are a fundamental part.

“These truly are changing times – but with 125 years behind us then we must be doing something right!  We know that our business will continue to evolve, with further investments in technology and infrastructure changing how and where we work. However, as we move forward, what is clear is that Sintons will always be right there, by the side of our clients, as we have been since 1896.”

Law firm Sintons is marking its 125th anniversary

Since its foundation in 1896, Sintons has grown to become one of the leading law firms in the North of England with a client base which extends across the whole UK.

It has become known as a key advisor to businesses and individuals acting on major, complex matters, regionally, nationally and internationally.

In many of its practice areas, including business, healthcare, private client and neurotrauma, Sintons is regarded as one of the UK’s leading specialist advisors.

Sintons has built a well-deserved reputation for delivering expert legal advice and outstanding service to every client, which is at the heart of the trusting and long-lasting relationships it has built during the past 125 years.

Testament to the quality of service provided is the fact that many of the firm’s clients have been with Sintons for decades, with the firm routinely being trusted to advise multiple generations of families and business owners.

Now, in its 125th year, and despite the ongoing challenges being presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sintons remains confident in its future as the firm continues to develop and grow.

The firm can trace its roots back to the formation of Sutton Cheshire & Thompson on February 8, 1896, which merged with John H. Sinton & Co in 1971 to become Sinton & Co, and later Sintons.

The expansion of the amalgamated firm has seen it move offices a number of times in order to house its growing number of employees, moving from Portland Terrace in Jesmond to bigger premises in Osborne Terrace which were soon outgrown, resulting in the relocation in 2004 to its current purpose-built home, The Cube, opposite St James’ Park in Newcastle. A second site was added with the opening of a consulting office in York two years ago to help the firm service its increasing demand for work from around Yorkshire.

The move in 2004 acted as a springboard in the development of Sintons, with many people not having realised how big the firm had grown and heralded a period of strong growth across the firm as a whole, with legal talent continually added to build its expertise and capability further still.

This has been backed by continued investment in its IT infrastructure, digital offering and people, to ensure Sintons is well positioned for the future.

“We are very proud of the reputation we have built over the past 125 years, which has seen us become known on a national scale as a law firm of the highest capability which is absolutely dedicated to its clients,” says Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons.

“We have never been afraid to be leaders and to take bold decisions, which have frequently put us at the very forefront of the legal sector. We were, for example, building our online presence and digital business development platforms way ahead of our competitors and long before it was something that was embraced widely within the legal sector.

“Going forward, we are in a strong position, having built on the heritage and legacy of Sintons over the past 125 years to create a law firm with a national reach, regarded in the highest terms for the quality of both our legal and personal client service.

“This is a very significant milestone for us as a business, and while we reach it during some of the most challenging economic conditions in the country’s history, we remain confident in the future of Sintons.”

Moving forward in 2021 – a Rural update with Tom Wills

As we get to grips with 2021 and look to hopefully a happier, healthier and more prosperous year ahead, now is a good time to start getting plans in place and affairs in order, to ensure you, your family and business can be in the best possible position to get on with post-pandemic life.

While admittedly 2021 so far hasn’t been too dissimilar to the bulk of 2020, and we’re now in the third lengthy national lockdown since COVID-19 arrived last March, the development of a vaccine – which has so far been given to millions of people across the country, with more vaccinated every day – means we can hopefully look forward to the not-too-distant future with some confidence.

And while we do so, and look forward to such times when we can meet our loved ones, support our local businesses and help get back to something like ‘normal’ (whatever that was!), this marks an ideal opportunity to get prepared for what lies ahead.

This promises to be another year of challenges for our farmers and rural businesses, with the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the yet-to-be-fully-discovered minefield of Brexit. But by considering now what lies ahead and establishing what needs to be done, and what advice and support should be sought, you will be doing all you can to ensure 2021 and beyond can be a better period than the one we have just endured.

While by no means an exhaustive list, the following are some of the matters you should consider for the year ahead. By having these on your radar, taking action if necessary and being prepared, you can be in as strong a position as possible:

  • Ongoing effects of COVID-19 – as we don’t know yet when it is going to end, is there anything more you can do to maximise trade during a period of closure? Can you do anything more online, which can be continued post-pandemic? You don’t want to look back on this period as wasted time, so forward plan and prepare as much as possible
  • Brexit – do you know how you and your business will be affected? Be sure to have taken any steps to enable a smooth transition to allow any trade relationships you have with the EU to proceed. Ensure you know how the new import/export processes work for such time as you will need them – it may well be you need to take action in advance of that
  • Agriculture Act 2020 – this promises to be a transformational change and could bring opportunities as well as challenges, but is absolutely something you should be familiar with and how the new introductions affect your operation. Have you invested the time to understand its implications and seek advice and clarification if needed?
  • Tourism – while tourism during 2020 was decimated by the pandemic, we can only hope the forthcoming summer will enable businesses to throw open their doors and make up for lost time. Do you have plans in place for reopening? Are you geared up to take advantage of demand? There is huge potential for staycations this year, and with people committed to supporting independent businesses, so ensure you have taken all necessary steps to reap the full rewards
  • Protecting your future – the pandemic has been a ghastly reminder that none of us know what the future holds and what uncertainties await, so many people have taken the opportunity over the past few months to make and update succession plans. Do you have a will and is it up to date? Will your business and assets pass to those who you want it to? Now marks a good time to ensure you have such plans in place, to give you and your family as much certainty as possible going forward.

As ever, our specialist team at Sintons will be by your side as we deal with the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and we’ll support you every step of the way as we rebuild our communities and economy. Please get in touch if there is anything we can do to assist.

Meet our Team – Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith

What is your role at Sintons and how long have you been with the firm? 

I am a partner and head of the licensing and gambling team, and have been with Sintons for 15 years.

Tell us about your career to date…

I trained at Mincoffs Solicitors and worked there for 13 years, initially as a personal injury solicitor before becoming a partner and head of their licensing department.

Can you tell us about your department and the work it does

We deal with all licensing matters relating to alcohol, entertainment and late night refreshment, sex establishments, gaming operations (such as adult gaming centres, betting, lotteries etc) and we also advise on taxi licensing.

We are involved in obtaining licences, maintaining and varying licences and defending licences from enforcement action. If you want or have a licence, we are the people you want to have on your team.

What have been your personal career highlights to date?

There have been lots of very interesting and high-profile matters that I have worked on. More recent highlights include obtaining the premises licence for STACK Newcastle after a six-day appeal hearing and securing the licences for Hard Rock Café, Alnwick Castle and Alnwick Gardens. In my personal injury years I was involved in the first case in which the MOD paid out compensation in excess of £1m. And of course the day, many years ago, that I met Ant and Dec to advise them on their proposed foray into the licensing trade will always be remembered!

Sintons enjoys a first-rate reputation regionally and nationally for its work. What is it like to work here?

Sintons is a great place to work. We work hard but we have fun. There are always lots of community and charity-based initiatives which helps to maintain a real sense of Sintons as a team, and we invest a lot in the younger staff as they are the future of the firm.

And finally, tell us about your interests outside work…

As with many working mums, my interests are usually limited to my kids’ interests. In the winter it’s watching my daughter play rugby and in summer watching my son play cricket or golf. I have been known on occasion to swing a tennis racquet or golf club but if I get time to myself it’s usually a chance to walk the dog, catch up with friends or expand my knowledge of gin (for research purposes only, of course).

Let’s work together to rebuild in 2021

The past year has been an extremely challenging period for us all – but now more than ever we need to continue to work together to rebuild in 2021 and beyond.

The economic challenges have been particularly difficult for our rural communities, as those families and businesses who rely on farming and agriculture, as well as tourism, have seen unprecedented struggles.

The peak periods of summer and Easter, which are so important to tourism businesses as families travel from across the UK to our wonderful region, have been largely decimated in terms of tourism, creating genuine struggles for many who depend on this trade.

The ongoing lockdown and forced closures of hospitality venues, and possibility of the introduction of Tier 4 at some point after Christmas, mean the conditions will remain tough for many months ahead. And now probably isn’t the time to even mention the likely impact of Brexit!

But together, we can get through this. Through supporting each other, we can strengthen the foundations for future growth which have been so tested during 2020.

Supporting our local businesses has never been more important, and I would urge everyone to get behind our family-owned and independent ventures, the lifeblood of so many communities whose existence depends on us enabling them to rebuild.

Over the past few months, our rural team at Sintons have supported so many families and businesses in protecting their futures. From enabling people to make wills and make provision for future generations, to supporting businesses with their rights and obligations through the Job Retention Scheme and the complexities around furlough leave, we have again been there for our rural communities.

For 124 years, our specialist advisors have supported our rural communities and we will continue to do so into the future – we’ll be by their side every step of the way giving the guidance they need.

But for now, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and send you my best wishes for the festive season. May it be a happy and healthy period for you and your family, and let’s all hope 2021 is a much less eventful year for us all! The prospect of holidays over the festive period and the positive vibes of changes in 2021 are hopefully enough to spur us all on and maintain strength.

* Tom Wills is head of agriculture and estates at Sintons. He and the team continue to work as normal during the pandemic and are contactable at all times.

Please contact Tom on tom.wills@sintons.co.uk or (0191) 226 3796.

Leisure company acquisition completed by Sintons

A North East leisure group is under new ownership after being sold to a fellow family-owned operator in one of the biggest deals in the region’s sector during 2020.

Sir John Fitzgerald has been purchased by Ladhar Group, after it was put on the market earlier in the autumn.

The landmark deal was completed by Sintons, the longstanding advisors to the Ladhar Group, and ensures Sir John Fitzgerald’s North East heritage and ownership remain firmly in the city.

The group was formed in Newcastle in the 1850s when a young John Fitzgerald moved from Tipperary in Ireland to settle in Newcastle.

By 1900, he owned several bars in the city, but well as founding the pub chain, he was known for his philanthropy. Having served as Sherrif, Alderman and Newcastle’s Lord Mayor in 1914-15, he was later knighted for his services to the city.

Since the early 1970s the company has been run by his great grandson David Horgan.

The Ladhar Group, which works across the care, property and leisure sectors, was built by brothers Amarjit and Baldev Ladhar and is now run by their sons Barry and Michael, with its substantial leisure portfolio already including the likes of city centre go-to venues Pleased To Meet You, Redhouse and Lady Greys.

Through its acquisition, it adds popular venues across the region to its portfolio, including Crown Posada and Bacchus in Newcastle, 29 Bar and Kitchen in Tynemouth, The Manor House in Stockton, The Ridley Arms in Morpeth, Twin Farms in Kenton Bank Foot and The Pavilion in Backworth.

Barry Ladhar, director of Crafted Projects, which will incorporate the Fitzgerald pubs, said: “We are absolutely delighted to own one of the city’s most iconic companies and to be able to keep it in our home city.

“The Fitzgerald family has given so much to Newcastle and we are both thankful and proud to have been entrusted with taking on the pub estate which has built up such a superb and well-deserved reputation.

“We don’t need to tell anyone how difficult 2020 has been but we are very positive about the future. We are seeing tremendous investment in Newcastle and we want to continue to play a big part in that.

“The purchase of Sir John Fitzgerald fits in with our ambitions to ensure the hospitality sector and night-time economy of Newcastle will once again thrive when the pandemic passes.

“We recognise the importance of the generational family ties to the business and its development, which mirror our own experiences. We are delighted to be able to continue the family ethos that runs throughout the Sir John Fitzgerald group.

“Sir John Fitzgerald has not stood still over the last 125 years; it has retained historic character pubs whilst developing new, modern pubs and restaurants – as we have. The opportunity for synergy between our respective estates is an exciting one, and one we intend wholeheartedly to embrace.

“We believe our proven track record; our ability to combine the historic with the new; our emphasis, like SJF, on quality; our local, family base; places us, perhaps uniquely, in an ideal position to move the combined businesses forward for the future generations of patrons.”

Christopher Welch, managing partner and corporate lawyer at Sintons, and real estate partner Alok Loomba completed the deal on behalf of their client Ladhar Group, with support from colleagues across the firm.

Jane Meikle, head of banking, and corporate partner Adrian Dye also worked on the transaction, alongside specialists in Sintons’ employment team.

“This is a hugely significant deal for the North East’s leisure sector and one which unites two highly-esteemed, family-owned operators into one ambitious group, which is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead, post pandemic,” says Christopher.

“We have supported our client with their ongoing expansion for many years, and we are delighted to have completed this deal on their behalf, which is undoubtedly one of the biggest leisure transactions of 2020 for the region.”

Leisure entrepreneur adds new venue to portfolio

A leisure entrepreneur is making significant investment in his latest North East acquisition, remaining confident in its future despite the current crisis in the hospitality sector.

David Whitehead has added The Woodmans Arms, in Whickham, to his portfolio, an award-winning pub and restaurant said to serve some of the best pies in Britain.

He is now investing in its future by building a dedicated wedding venue on site, alongside five executive rooms, in preparation for the return of business after COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

While David, who also owns The Jolly Fisherman in Craster and Rosie’s Bar in central Newcastle, concedes it is “probably not ideal timing” to purchase a leisure venue – as all non-takeaway venues across England prepare to be shut down until December 2 at the earliest under the new national lockdown – he remains confident in its future.

“The Woodmans Arms has a long track record of success and it’s a great venue, so I’m really pleased to have been able to complete the purchase,” he says.

“These are very uncertain times and I must confess to thinking long and hard about whether to proceed, but it remains a strong investment so I decided to take the plunge. I’m really confident going forward and we have some great plans with the new wedding venue and the new rooms. There is a lot of potential here for the future.

“This is a very tough year but it isn’t going to last forever. People will always want to go out to eat and drink, people will always get married and there’s no way weddings are always going to be restricted to 15 guests. We are preparing and investing now for when that business comes back.”

David was supported with his latest acquisition by law firm Sintons, with his longstanding advisors Christopher Welch and Mark Dobbin completing the purchase.

“David is a very ambitious entrepreneur who quickly identifies the potential in an opportunity and goes for it. Purchasing and investing in a new acquisition is a brave step to take in any climate, but particularly in such turbulent times as these, during which the leisure sector is suffering so much,” says Christopher, managing partner of Sintons.

“The Woodmans Arms has a strong and established reputation and David is investing now to build that even further, creating a premium wedding venue and suite of rooms which will look forward to welcoming guests as soon as it is safe and permitted to do so.

Mark Dobbin, head of commercial property, added: “We are very pleased to have supported David again in building his portfolio and wish him and the team every success with the ongoing progress of The Woodmans Arms.”

Darlington FC appoints Sintons as legal advisor

Law firm Sintons has been appointed as legal advisor to Darlington Football Club.

Specialists at Sintons will support the continuing progress of the club by advising on a host of legal matters, including property, and will work closely with Darlington FC’s board.

The law firm has built a strong relationship with David Johnston, the club’s chairman and chief executive, and his team, and will work alongside them to help plan the future of Darlington FC.

The club, which plays in the Vanarama National League North, recently secured one of the shocks of the FA Cup First Round by beating Swindon 2-1, a team from League One – three divisions above Darlington.

The victory is another highlight for Darlington, which continues to rebuild after being rescued by fan ownership eight years ago. Since that time, over £1 million has been raised by fan owners, with the club securing three promotions and a move back to the town into the redeveloped Blackwell Meadows stadium.

Darlington FC continues to be majority-owned by the Darlington FC Supporters Group, with David Johnston taking an equity stake earlier this year.

Ongoing investment in its future includes the launch of the Darlington FC Academy, comprising over 200 children, and the formation of the independent Darlington FC Foundation.

Tom Wills, real estate partner at Sintons, says: “We’re delighted to be working with Darlington Football Club, and have been really impressed by David and the team. They are very ambitious with a bold vision for the future of the club, both in terms of its role on the football pitch and in the community, and it’s great to be able to support them with this.

“We look forward to working with them in continuing to realise the potential of the club, and we’ll support them every step of the way.”

Licensing again confirmed as a leading advisor in the North

The “excellent track record” of Sintons’ specialist licensing team has won praise from Chambers and Partners UK Guide 2021, with its strong capability and levels of client service both hailed as being crucial to its offering.

The team, led by renowned licensing specialist Sarah Smith, is known for its expertise in all licensing matters, both contentious and non-contentious – “contested licenses are a particular strength,” notes Chambers – and represents clients from around the country.

It is “adept” at obtaining licences in cumulative impact zones, as well as in advising clients from sectors including sexual entertainment, retail, leisure and food and drink.

The licensing team was praised for its “very high” standards, with Chambers adding “they are easy to work with and have always provided high-quality results”. It recently won similar praise from the Legal 500 Guide 2021, which confirmed its reputation as one of the leading licensing specialists in the North.

Sarah Smith – recently named as part of the Legal 500 Hall of Fame in recognition of her career achievements – wins particular praise, and is highlighted for her capability in handling premises license applications, as well as licence variations and revocations, alongside taxi licensing work.

“Sarah is a pleasure to work with. She is easy to contact, very intelligent and knowledgeable in the field of licensing,” cites Chambers.

“She goes above and beyond … she is very meticulous and detailed, but also explains things in layman’s terms.”

Christopher Welch, managing partner, said: “We are regarded in the highest terms nationally for our work in licensing and are regularly involved in major high-profile new leisure developments in the North East and far beyond.

“Sarah has built a team which has become the trusted go-to advisor of leisure operators across the UK, and its commitment to client service, alongside its legal excellence, makes it a stand-out advisor in this area of work.

“To receive such strong praise from Chambers 2021, which echoes the findings of Legal 500 about our standards of legal and client excellence, is very pleasing indeed, and is yet more independent endorsement of the first-rate work of Sarah and her team.”

Real estate team praised for its wide-ranging expertise

The real estate team at Sintons has won praise from Chambers and Partners UK Guide 2021 for its “comprehensive” breadth of specialism and “impressive” client list.

The team, a specialist in property matters in a host of sectors including healthcare, retail, leisure and hospitality, regularly acts in transactions of regional and national significance.

It is adept at handling acquisitions and disposals, notes Chambers, alongside real estate finance matters.

Agricultural and rural is another area of expertise for the team, with its capability for handling matters on behalf of farmers, landowners and rural businesses highlighted.

Chambers highlights is strong reputation and its “well organised, genuine and very diligent” approach.

Mark Dobbin, head of real estate, is praised for his work in a wide range of real estate work and is hailed as a “particularly gifted negotiator…he is a brilliant and highly effective problem solver”.

Partner Paul Liddle is also singled out, winning praise for his deep experience, particularly in the fields of acquisition and sale of residential developments and in the energy sector.

Head of agriculture and estates Tom Wills is also highlighted for his work in leading Sintons’ rural specialism, with Chambers citing that he is “very knowledgeable about his subject and gave sound advice in a timely manner”.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “We are well known for our expertise in real estate matters, and are proud to be the advisor of choice to clients nationally in this specialist field. We have huge experience in the team which enables us to handle the most complex and multi-faceted of matters in an efficient and timely manner, and we are regarded in the highest terms for doing so.

“To win further independent praise for our real estate specialism is great news, with Chambers echoing Legal 500 in its assessment of our commitment to delivering the highest standards of legal advice and client service, both of which are absolutely central to what we do here at Sintons.”

Acropolis continues expansion with third North East site

A popular Greek street food business is continuing its rapid expansion by opening its second site in four months as it continues its rapid growth.

Acropolis has opened a site in STACK in Seaburn, the shipping container development which is home to an array of independent retailers.

Its opening on Wearside comes only weeks after it opened the doors to its new base in STACK Newcastle, adding to its existing flagship outlet in the city’s Grainger Market.

The business has built a huge following on the strength of its range of Greek street food, with regular appearances at pop-ups including the Quayside Market and By The River Brew in Newcastle, Jesmond Market and Tynemouth Market helping to grow its reputation.

Now, with three permanent sites in the North East, Acropolis is eyeing even further growth in the near future, buoyed by the significant demand it is seeing from customers across the region.

The business was established by brothers Viktor and Filip Tachan with their friend Yusef Yenil in 2016, and now has a team of people who create its range of dishes – including gyros, souvlaki and mezze, all freshly made to order – for numerous events simultaneously, in addition to operating its static sites.

“We have grown beyond our expectations since we first set up as a pop-up operator and have established a really strong and loyal customer base across the region, which is growing all the time. We are so pleased our Greek street food has been so warmly received,” said the Acropolis team.

“We are really ambitious and always keen to look at the next opportunity, so we are already looking at what comes next for Acropolis and our team.”

Acropolis turned to the specialist real estate team at Sintons for support in acquiring their units in the STACK developments in Newcastle and Seaburn. Partner Tom Wills and solicitor Jay Balmer completed the work on behalf of the business.

“Acropolis has become a staple of the region’s street food scene and has grown significantly in the four years it has been in existence on the strength of its reputation for offering traditional Greek food of the highest quality. The fact it has been able to add two new static sites to its portfolio in a matter of months is testament to the rate it is growing,” said Tom.

“The addition of STACK Seaburn is another bold move by the team, who we know remain ambitious and always on the lookout for the next opportunity. We look forward to continuing to support them.”

An Update on the Government’s Help to Buy Equity Loan Scheme

On 31st July 2020, the Government announced some much-needed extensions to the existing Help to Buy equity loan scheme.  The deadline for new homes to be built to qualify for Help to Buy funding under the existing scheme was extended from 31st December 2020 to 28th February 2021.  The deadline for legal completion of the sale for most buyers remained unchanged and is still 31st March 2021.

In the case of buyers who reserved their home before 30th June 2020, Homes England has discretion to extend the date for completion of the build to 30th April 2021 and the legal completion from 31st March 2021 to 31st May 2021, where severe delays have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Such extensions will be considered on a case by case basis.  If these dates are not met, then the equity loan funds will not be available for the purchase and the builder must release the buyer from the Contract.

The existing Help to Buy scheme will otherwise end on 31st March 2021.  A new Help to Buy equity loan scheme will be available from 1st April 2021 to 31st March 2023, but it will only be available for first-time buyers and for houses with a market value up to new regional property price caps set at 1.5 times the average price paid by first time buyers in each region.  In the North East, the property price cap will be £186,100.

Developers wishing to use the new Help to Buy scheme must adhere to a range of new quality measures to improve customer experience and safety, including that homes must comply with the most recent energy efficiency methods, builders must be subject to adjudication that will be provided by the New Homes Ombudsman and the preceding voluntary scheme and builders with a Home Builders Federation star rating must clearly communicate that rating on related Help to Buy communications and advertisements.  In a nod to the on-going investigation into sale of leasehold properties by some developers, any ground rent on the sale of leasehold properties through the scheme must be restricted to a peppercorn rent.

The Help to Buy equity loan scheme allows people to buy a home with a deposit of as little as 5% of the purchase price with the Government providing an equity loan of up to 20%.  It has proven to be very popular since it was introduced in 2013 and, by March 2021, the Government expects to have invested around £22billion in the equity loan scheme, supporting up to be 360,000 households into homeownership.  There is no indication now that the Government intends to introduce any further Help to Buy equity loan schemes after March 2023.

Adverse possession: Dowse v City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council

When the Land Registration Act 2002 (“the LRA”) came into force on 13th October 2003, it introduced a new scheme for the acquisition of registered land by adverse possession which was designed to restrict a squatter’s ability to claim ownership of land legally owned by someone else.

Under the old regime, and indeed the regime that still applies to unregistered land, if a squatter could prove 12 years’ occupation of the land, with the necessary intention to possess and a sufficient degree of control of the land, subject to some exceptions, they would have a successful claim for adverse possession.

Since the introduction of the LRA, however, the scales have been balanced in favour of the landowner and the idea that land registration prevails.  A squatter is entitled to apply to the Land Registry to become the registered proprietor once they have been in adverse possession of the land in question for a minimum period of 10 years. The registered owner of the land will be notified of this application by the Land Registry (NB the importance of keeping your address for service at the Land Registry up-to-date). If the application is not opposed by a notified person then the squatter’s application will be successful. If the application is opposed, then the squatter’s application will be rejected unless they can establish that one or more of three grounds apply, namely;

  1. Proprietary Estoppel ie it would be unconscionable for the squatter to be removed from the land;
  2. The squatter has some other right to the land eg they had intended to purchase the land and had paid the purchase monies to the seller but the transfer of the legal estate had not been completed;
  3. The adjacent land/boundaries ground. This ground is relevant in cases where a squatter’s own property and the land they are claiming to own by adverse possession are adjacent to one another and there is a reasonable mistake as to boundaries.

The case of Dowse and Another v City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council [2020] UKUT 202 (LC) was concerned with the third of these grounds. There are four elements to this ground and all four must apply in order for the squatter to be successful;

  1. The land they are claiming must be adjacent to their own land;
  2. The exact boundary line between the two has not been determined (under S60 of the LRA);
  3. The applicant had reasonably believed that the land had belonged to them for at least 10 years prior to the date of the application; and
  4. The land had been registered more than one year prior to the date of the application.

On the facts of this case, Mr and Mrs Dowse relied upon the above-mentioned ground to claim circa two acres of land which bordered the garden of their residential property and belonged to the Council. They claimed to have used the land in question since 1974 for the purposes of grazing and, more recently, for storage of a caravan/trailer and to grow hay.

Mr and Mrs Dowse argued that on literal reading of the four conditions, all four were met; the land was adjacent to their garden, the boundary had not been determined under the LRA, they had reasonably believed that the land had belonged to them on the basis of adverse possession for over 40 years, and the land had been registered in excess of one year.

The Judge rejected this literal interpretation of the conditions. He submitted that the ground could only apply to land in the general area of the boundary. The land in this case could not be said to be adjacent to the property belonging to Mr and Mrs Dowse as only a small area of it was. The whole of the land, or a substantial part, would need to be adjacent to the Dowse’s property in order for condition A to apply.

In summary, the adjacent land ground appears to only apply to those applications which concern a true boundary dispute. The Upper Tribunal’s decision in this case serves as further reminder of the limited circumstances in which a claim for adverse possession will be successful under the LRA. It is therefore important before proceeding with a claim for adverse possession to objectively consider the strength of the claim and the likelihood of success.

If you require any advice in respect of a claim for adverse possession, please do not hesitate to get in contact with the team who would be happy to assist you.

‘Efficient and professional’ real estate team praised by Legal 500

The real estate team at Sintons has won praise from Legal 500 2021 for its breadth of clients and the quality of service it delivers.

The specialist team is praised for its “well-established reputation” in the marketplace as a leading real estate advisor, with its “efficient and professional” approach helping it to stand out.

Its range of sector specialisms are highlighted, with strength in areas including healthcare, commercial and residential developments, and retail and hospitality.

Legal 500 also notes the “personal touch” which clients receive, with the same lawyer handling their matter from start to finish who ensures they are kept well-informed throughout their transaction.

Sintons is regularly appointed in many real estate matters of regional and national significance, with recent instructions including its purchase of Newcastle’s former Crown Court on behalf of its long-standing client Gainford Group.

Practice head Mark Dobbin, alongside partners Paul Liddle, Alok Loomba, Tom Wills and David Ferguson, and associate Chris Jackson, are all named as being stand-out names in real estate matters.

Alex Rayner, head of construction & engineering, also wins praise for his work, with his experience of being a quantity surveyor prior to qualifying as a lawyer helping him to stand out from the crowd.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “Our real estate team is regularly appointed to handle matters of regional and national significance, and is rightly known as a leading advisor in this specialist sector. To again have this confirmed by Legal 500 is very pleasing, and the recognition of the outstanding service we deliver to our clients is something we are particularly proud of.

“We have worked hard to earn our reputation as being a law firm which is absolutely committed to its clients, and that will always be at the heart of everything we do at Sintons – to again have that independently recognised is very important to us.”

Wide-ranging specialism of agriculture and estates team praised by Legal 500

The agriculture and estates team at Sintons has again been confirmed as a leading advisor in the North of England in its specialist field by Legal 500 2021.

The team, which handles matters throughout the North East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria, was praised for its specialism in a wide range of niche areas.

Its wide variety of clients – ranging from farmers, rural businesses, estates, landowners and investors – and strong professional links were also hailed by Legal 500.

Tom Wills, head of agriculture and estates, and partner Paul Liddle – a specialist in energy, waste and renewables – were both named as key names in the sector.

Sintons is regularly instructed in matters of great significance and complexity, with recent matters including the gift of Carrawburgh Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall to the nation, in a transaction which attracted national attention.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “For many years, often spanning generations, Sintons has been known as a high-regarded and trusted name in the rural and agricultural community for the specialist advice we are able to give to families and businesses. We have a deep knowledge and understanding of our region’s rural communities and are continually appointed to act on their behalf through our absolute commitment to delivering the highest standards of legal advice and personal service.

“To again win recognition for this from Legal 500 is very pleasing and is a rightful endorsement of the work of Tom and his team in growing Sintons’ presence in this very specialist sector even further.”

COVID-19 Q&A | Sintons | Further extension on protections for Tenants of Commercial Property

We previously published an article on the impact of The Coronavirus Act 2020 (the “Act”) on landlords of UK Commercial Property. One of the key aspects of the Act was the prevention of landlord’s re-entering premises or forfeiting leases due to non-payment of rent. Initially the Act stated that these provisions were to only last for a period up until 30 June this year, but this was subsequently extended, and the extended period was due to come to an end on 30 September.

In addition, landlords were only able to enforce Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery (“CRAR”) if there were 189 days’ worth of rent outstanding, meaning that CRAR was only available for arrears that had accrued before the Act came into force.

What has been announced?

On 16 September, “to stop businesses going under and protect jobs over the coming months” the Government announced that it will further extend the forfeiture and CRAR protections that have been afforded to tenants of commercial property. The extended deadline is now 31 December 2020.

In relation to forfeiture this means that a landlord will not be able to forfeit a commercial lease for non-payment of rent until 2021 at the earliest with there still being a potential for this date to be further extended in the future.

In relation to CRAR, for a landlord to exercise CRAR there will have to be at least 276 days’ or 366 days’ worth of arrears (depending on when the final quarter’s rent falls due). This extension means that again for a landlord to currently exercise CRAR the arrears must have begun before the Act came into force.

What next for landlords?

Whilst the extensions are intended to provide commercial tenants with breathing space and relief during a troubling time the further extensions will no doubt be cause for concerns for landlords who have seen tenants refusing to pay rent throughout this period. In certain cases this may even be contrary to the Government’s Code of Practice for commercial property during the pandemic which states that landlords and tenants “should act in good faith” and that, “tenants who are able to pay their rent in full should continue to do so”. Unfortunately, for landlords, whilst the extensions to forfeiture and CRAR are compulsory the Code of Practice is voluntary.

Some landlords may wish to take this opportunity to use arrears of rent that have accrued during this period as an opportunity to commence negotiation of  new arrangements with their tenants such as allowing rent free periods in return for lease renewals, payments of block rent in advance, reversionary leases or removal of tenant break options.

Finally, it is still worth noting that the additional extensions do not remove the landlord’s right to rent or other payments under the lease and therefore, whilst the landlord cannot re-enter or forfeit, interest will continue to accrue on rent that has not been paid and at the end of the extension the amount of arrears accrued will be an amount due to the landlord.

If you would like further information on the further extension of protections under the Coronavirus Act 2020, please contact Alex Wilkins or a member of the Real Estate Team at Sintons.

Runners raise over £1,500 through Great North Run Solo

Over £1,500 has been raised so far by Sintons’ team of runners who took on the Great North Run Solo challenge.

The six-strong team committed to each completing 40 runs as part of the challenge, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Great North Run, which this year was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Collectively, the team ran more than 1,100km during the period of the Great North Run Solo challenge, which ran from June 28 – the birthday of the iconic half marathon from Newcastle to South Shields – and September 13, the date the event was due to be held.

In addition to funds raised for the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Urgent Appeal, the event’s charity partner, Sintons are fundraising for the firm’s nominated charity, the North of England Children’s Cancer Research Fund (NECCR).

To date, more than £1,500 has been raised, with donations continuing to be made in support of the team – head of banking Jane Meikle, head of real estate Mark Dobbin, real estate senior associate Louise Kelly, family senior associate Louise Masters, Court of Protection lawyer Sophie Robinson-Davies and real estate solicitor Alex Wilkins.

“Our team of runners have covered a very impressive collective distance for their Great North Run Solo challenge, and the total they have raised so far is excellent. Their commitment has been excellent and their efforts are greatly appreciated by the firm,” said Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons.

“We would like to thank everyone who has donated in support of our runners. We appreciate that these are very difficult times but through the generosity of so many people, we have added well over £1,200 – and counting – to our ongoing fundraising for NECCR.”

To donate to Sintons’ Great North Run Solo challenge and help raise money for NECCR please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sintons-neccr

STACK to stay in Newcastle until 2024

The social hub and container venue, STACK, in central Newcastle will be staying in the city until 2024, it has been confirmed.

The popular food, drink and live music venue has had its original licence extended for a further three years, beyond the end of its current licence next April, following approval from Newcastle City Council.

Danieli Holdings, owner of STACK, was supported by specialist licensing advisors at Sintons in its successful premises licence application.

Since opening in July 2018, STACK has seen more than 2 million people visit its containers, on the site of the old Odeon cinema in Pilgrim Street, and has recently added a second STACK venue  to its portfolio through its expansion into Seaburn, in Sunderland.

Danieli have pledged to continue to make new introductions to its STACK site in Newcastle, to keep its offer fresh and exciting for visitors, with ‘competitive socialising’ activities like darts and shuffleboard being considered for the near future.

Sarah Smith, head of licensing at Sintons, is the long-standing advisor to Danieli Holdings, and advised them on their latest application with Charles Holland of Trinity Chambers as their advocate at the hearing before the Council’s Licensing Sub-committee. The Committee granted the licence following a virtual hearing.

“STACK has become a firm favourite in Newcastle’s leisure scene and we are delighted it will be a fixture of the city centre until 2024 at least. It has become known for its wide variety of offering, which makes it a venue people can visit from day into night, and for the platform it provides for independent traders. It regenerated a disused area of the city and introduced something new and modern, which has helped to bring new footfall into the Pilgrim Street area,” she said.

“Danieli have worked very closely with the Council to ensure its ongoing positive impact on the city, and we are pleased this will be allowed to continue through securing the new premises licence.”

Sintons takes on new trainee solicitor

Law firm Sintons has continued its commitment to supporting the next generation of legal talent by taking on a new trainee.

Charlotte Johnston has secured a two-year training contract with Sintons, which will see her take a series of six-month placements throughout the firm under the guidance of some of the leading lawyers in their specialist fields regionally and nationally.

Her first seat will be in Sintons’ leading real estate team, which Charlotte joined as a paralegal last year, to help gain valuable experience of the world of law ahead of her becoming a trainee solicitor.

Charlotte becomes the latest young lawyer to be given a training contract by Sintons, which has had an unfaltering commitment to recruiting new trainees annually for many years. Many of its past trainees go on to become senior members of the firm, with several now holding partner positions.

Alongside the current four-strong group of second-year trainees at the firm, Sintons also employs three solicitor apprentices through the six-year North East Solicitor Apprenticeship programme, of which the firm was a founder member.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “We are very pleased to welcome Charlotte as a trainee solicitor and wish her well as she begins her two-year training programme.

“At Sintons, we are renowned for our continuing commitment to offering opportunities to young lawyers. The training we offer is of the highest standard and equips our trainees with the skills, knowledge and confidence they will need to enjoy a long and successful career in law.

“Several of the current Sintons partners began their careers with the firm as trainees, which I think speaks volumes about the culture and ethos of Sintons. We reward hard work and dedication with opportunities, which has helped to create the first-rate team we have and continue to build.”

Newly-qualified solicitor takes role in Construction & Engineering team

The Construction & Engineering team at Sintons has added a new solicitor to its ranks with the qualification of one of the firm’s trainees.

Jay Balmer has become a solicitor after completing his two-year training contract with Sintons, during which he impressed with his work in Construction & Engineering and Real Estate.

He has now taken up a permanent role within the firm’s specialist Construction & Engineering team, which acts for an array of major clients both national and regionally and is known for its capability in both contentious and non-contentious work.

Jay becomes the latest of Sintons’ trainees to secure a role with the firm, with Sintons having a longstanding reputation for its commitment to young lawyers and the high quality of training and opportunities it offers.

“Completing my training contract with Sintons has been even better than I had hoped. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best lawyers in their fields regionally and nationally and have been part of teams completing really significant transactions. The training I have had has been exceptional and sets me up well for my career ahead,” said Jay.

“I am delighted to be offered this role in the Construction & Engineering team, which is a really strong and growing area of the business.  I have been involved with some exciting projects during my time in the department as a trainee and I look forward to continuing to work with Alex and the rest of the team.”

Alex Rayner, partner and head of the Construction & Engineering department at Sintons, said: “Jay is a fantastic addition to the team and we are delighted to be able to reward the commitment and dedication he has shown with a permanent role with us. Construction & Engineer is a growing area of the business and will be a great environment for Jay to learn and develop in his career. We all wish him every success and look forward to working with him going forward.”

Sintons’ runners top 1,100km in Great North Run Solo challenge

The team of runners from Sintons who are taking part in the Great North Run Solo challenge have covered over 1,100km collectively with several days still to go.

Sintons’ team committed their support to the challenge following the cancellation of the Great North Run, the iconic 13.1 mile run from Newcastle to South Shields, in its 40th anniversary year due to COVID-19.

The alternative, the Great North Run Solo challenge, tasks runners with completing a minimum of 40 runs of any distance between June 28 – the birthday of the Great North Run – and September 13, the scheduled date of the 2020 half marathon.

With less than a week remaining, Sintons’ team – head of banking Jane Meikle, head of real estate Mark Dobbin, real estate senior associate Louise Kelly, family senior associate Louise Masters, Court of Protection lawyer Sophie Robinson-Davies and real estate solicitor Alex Wilkins – have collectively covered over 1,100km as they approach their 40-run targets.

In addition to the official Great North Run Solo charity, the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Urgent Appeal, Sintons are also raising money for the firm’s nominated staff charity, the North of England Children’s Cancer Research Fund (NECCR).

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “While the cancellation of the Great North Run was very unfortunate, particularly in its 40th anniversary year, the creation of the Great North Run Solo challenge has proved a very worthy alternative for our team at Sintons. While the runs have been done individually, collectively this is a great team effort.

“Furthermore, we are very grateful for the significant donations that have been made so far in support of our team. These are difficult times but the generosity of so many people is greatly appreciated.”

To donate to Sintons’ Great North Run Solo challenge and help raise money for NECCR please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sintons-neccr

 

Historic mill handed over to community ownership

An historic Cumbrian mill has been brought into community ownership following a £2m restoration project which protects the site for future generations.

The corn mill at Warwick Bridge dates back to 1170 and flour has been made at the site for over 800 years, although has not been in use in recent years. It was largely rebuilt in 1845 and its recent restoration has equipped it for the future.

New and restored buildings and machinery has come at a cost of £2m, including a £1.34m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and further funding from Historic England, the RDPE LEADER programme, and others including the Headley Trust, one of the Sainsbury family trusts.

To ensure the mill continues to thrive and can serve future generations of the community, Cultura Trust, the owner of the site, has leased the mill to Warwick Bridge Corn Mill Limited, a community benefit society, which will oversee the running of the mill.

Through a community share issue, which has seen over 200 people become shareholders in the venture, locals will be living, breathing, baking and eating the fresh straight-out-of-the-oven results of their efforts.

Warwick Bridge Corn Mill Limited has engaged a community enterprise based in Edinburgh, Breadshare, to run the operation. This will include flour production, baked products and courses in traditional breadmaking. In addition, volunteers will be able to lend a hand learning some of the skills in milling to keep the mill turning, which will keep the flour flowing.

The unique lease was prepared by law firm Sintons, longstanding lawyers to charity Cultura.

Graham Bell, director of Cultura Trust, said the handover marks 20 years of the trust’s determination to save this piece of living history and pass it into the hands of the community to run.

“We looked at options including creating a microbrewery, which back then were rare, but really, this mill has flour dust engrained in its walls and floorboards – we couldn’t ignore that call to revive the life it was made for,” he said.

Phil Healy, a neighbour of the corn mill who watched the mill sit idle, became the founding chairman of Warwick Bridge Corn Mill Limited.

“Receiving the sluice-gate key as a symbol of the lease is in character with this wonderful, powerful, longstanding “member of our community” that we’ll be taking care of. Every one of over 200 people who have bought shares feel strongly about this mill – their mill, their neighbour, their investment,” he said.

Paul Liddle, partner in the real estate team at Sintons, added: “This is a much-loved community site with a proud history stretching back hundreds of years. To revive its flour making past in the hands of local people who are so passionate about its purpose is a fantastic achievement. The corn mill can now serve this community for generations to come and we are delighted to have supported Cultura in enabling this benevolent handover.”

Street food business expands into second site

A fast-growing street food business has established its second North East site as it continues to expand across the region.

Acropolis has built a huge following for its range of Greek street food through its base in Newcastle’s Grainger Market, in addition to its regular pop-ups at the likes of the Quayside Market and By The River Brew in Newcastle, Jesmond Market and Tynemouth Market.

Now, Acropolis has added a second permanent site to its portfolio by opening in the Stack shipping container development in Newcastle, joining the array of independent traders at the venue.

The business was established by brothers Viktor and Filip Tachan with their friend Yusef Yenil, and has grown significantly since first starting out in 2016. Acropolis now has a team of people who create its range of dishes – including gyros, souvlaki and mezze, all freshly made to order – for numerous events simultaneously, in addition to operating its static city centre sites.

Acropolis is now braced for further growth and is already on the lookout for further sites to add to its North East portfolio and expand its brand further.

“We have grown beyond our expectations since we first set up as a pop-up operator and have established a really strong and loyal customer base across the region, which is growing all the time. We are so pleased our Greek street food has been so warmly received,” said the Acropolis team.

“Moving into Stack is a really big move for us and increases our Newcastle city centre presence further still. We are really busy in the Grainger Market and this will help us to serve even more customers in another iconic setting.

“We are really ambitious and always keen to look at the next opportunity, so we are already looking at what comes next for Acropolis and our team.”

Acropolis turned to the specialist real estate team at Sintons for support in acquiring their unit within Stack. Partner Tom Wills and trainee solicitor Jay Balmer completed the deal.

Tom Wills said: “Acropolis has become one of the region’s favourite street food companies and the team have worked really hard to build their reputation, attending markets and events in all weathers and seasons to get their business off the ground and build it to the success it has become.

“The acquisition of another site is a big move for the team and they are already looking at future opportunities to continue on their strong path of growth. We are very pleased to have helped them secure the site at Stack and look forward to supporting them going forward.”

Have you Health & Safety risk assessed your shoot?

 

Some years, at around this time of year, I write an article extolling everybody to ensure that their Shoot Health & Safety Risk Assessment is in place and properly updated prior to the season beginning. I normally reinforce the point by highlighting some ghastly accident that took place the season before and stress that updating an existing assessment is a simple exercise. Not so this year!

Like all operations, shoots will need to ensure that they have a comprehensive COVID-19 risk assessment in place alongside the normal document. As the Prime Minister has said that he hopes everything will be back to near normal by November, it may be tempting to delay the work in the hope that it is not necessary. However, given what is currently occurring around the world, it would seem sensible to begin the planning process well in advance. If the regulations ease, it is simple to adjust the plan. If they don’t, you are prepared.

Given the nature of shooting, being part work and part pleasure, it does not fit terribly well into any of the Government’s pigeon holes. As things stand, outdoor socialising is limited to groups of only 6 people. More are allowed if the group consists of people from only two households. It is currently against the law for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place in private homes, including outdoors.

Consideration should be given as to how and when people will arrive at the shoot, including how they will be properly briefed on COVID issues and sanitisation facilities provided. It may well be worth segregating the different groups of shoot personnel (ie guns, beaters and pickers up) to limit the possibility of cross infection. Names and contact details should be recorded and stored for at least 21 days in case they are required for “Track and Trace” purposes.

Movement around the shoot is another area of concern. Ideally, everybody should walk throughout the day, but this will not be practical for all. Beaters should be transported in accordance with COVID guidelines. Guns and pickers up should ideally travel in their own vehicles. This may cause its own issues – do they have suitable vehicles and can additional vehicles be accommodated safely?

What about lunch? Indoor socialising is still restricted to no more than two households. Other areas of concern include no sharing of equipment, interaction with the public, tipping, game handling and distribution.

The above is not designed as a comprehensive list of what needs to be covered, but should hopefully provide some food for thought. The representative bodies are working with Government and should produce up-to-date guidance as the situation changes. So do keep abreast of the situation but do not simply ignore it and hope for the best.

The importance of succession planning for your family farm

The COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty and devastation it has caused – for families, businesses and the whole economy – has resulted in a significant rise in the numbers of people looking to make plans for their future.

The unprecedented circumstances of the past few weeks have wreaked havoc across the country, with the numbers of COVID-19 fatalities tragically rising by the day and growing levels of businesses battling for survival. These have been truly traumatic times indeed.

However, as we now emerge from lockdown and look at returning to some form of ‘normality’ (whatever that will look like in the post-pandemic period) the focus for many has been shifted from focusing on the immediate future to now also include planning for the longer-term.

Succession planning for the future of the family farm or business has always been of the utmost importance, but many people are now taking action and putting provision in place for such time as they are no longer here. Certainly by making plans now, there are significant tax efficiencies that can be made, particularly with regard to Inheritance Tax (IHT).

A good place to start is by making a will. By doing so, you can help avoid potential disputes that may arise through the rules of intestacy (the rules that apply to your estate if you die without making a will). Under these rules, if you are survived by, for example, your spouse and children, your spouse will be entitled to receive the first £250,000, your personal possessions and half of whatever is left. Depending on the value of your estate, this could leave the spouse vulnerable if they do not inherit the whole estate and attract an IHT liability as the assets passing to the children will not be covered under the spousal exemption rules.

Furthermore, if some of the children are involved in the family farming business, and others are not, it could lead to disputes within the family, especially if some of them need to raise money to buy out their siblings who do not an interest in the future of the farm.

Another important factor in making a will is that you can have the opportunity to review the structure of the business and legal documents behind how the farm is operating. For example, there may be partnership deeds or shareholder agreements in place, or tenancies and grazing licences, which you can examine and revisit as necessary, particularly those which have been in place for some time.

By planning for your future, you can also review the IHT position of the farm and whether your interest would qualify for Agricultural Property Relief (APR). APR is a generous relief available if certain conditions are met. APR is a relief available on the agricultural value of agricultural property. If the conditions are met, APR can minimise the amount of IHT payable on death.

Briefly, APR is available on transfers of land occupied for the purposes of agriculture, together with appropriate buildings and farmhouses used in conjunction with that land. The property in question must have been either occupied by the owner for the purposes of agriculture for two years prior to the transfer, or owned by you for seven years and occupied by someone else for the purposes of agriculture throughout that period

It is often assumed that your farmhouse will automatically qualify for APR if the land is being farmed, but if you are no longer able to farm through ill health or retirement, this can present problems. Similarly, if you are living in the house, but you have let all of your land out to tenants, this could impact on the level of IHT payable, although through careful financial planning this can be mitigated as much as possible.

Any grazing licence arrangement that you have should also be considered to ensure the conditions for occupation are met. Although the land is grazed by someone else, you will want to ensure you are still deemed to be the occupier for the land to qualify for APR. Retaining responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the land is also essential to prove the conditions for occupation are met.

These past few months have been difficult for us all, but the renewed focus it has placed on the importance of future planning has been one positive to emerge. By putting together a succession plan for you and your family, which is then revisited and updated as necessary, this can ensure your farm passes as you wish after your death with your family being able to benefit from the maximum tax efficiencies.

Sintons has advised families on succession planning for over 120 years, and has looked after the futures of several generations of farming families across the North. Please speak to us for any support you may need in putting these vital plans in place.

* Tom Wills is head of agriculture and estates at Sintons and a Fellow of the Agricultural Law Association. To speak to him about this or any other matter, please contact Tom on tom.wills@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 3796.

Changes to Capital Gains Tax from 6th April 2020

As lockdown measures are eased, and the property market returns to normality, it is essential that those entering into property transactions are aware of changes that have taken effect over the past few months.

As of 6th April 2020, individuals will now have a period of 30 calendar days from the date of completion in which to report and make payment of any Capital Gains Tax (“CGT”) due on the sale of residential property within the UK. For the most- part, this will only affect those selling buy-to-let properties, holiday homes, and any home which has not been occupied by the selling individual during their whole period of ownership, as Private Residence Relief will usually apply to an individual’s main residence.

The new rules are only applicable where a legally binding contract for sale is completed on/after 6th April 2020. Any contracts completed prior to this date are governed by the old rules, regardless of whether completion of the sale occurs after the date of the changes.

The new position is vastly different to the old regime whereby CGT was recorded on an individual’s personal tax return, and any tax was payable on 31st January following the end of the tax year, meaning that payment could fall due for CGT anywhere between 10 – 22 months after the completion of a sale/disposal.

In respect of transactions now completed after 6th April 2020, any CGT liability should be reported within 30 days of completion.  Individuals will face late filing penalties for non-compliance with the new rules and interest will accrue on any amount of tax which remains unpaid after the 30-day period.

The payment of CGT in respect of residential property disposals only will not now necessitate an annual return submission where reported within the 30-day deadline. However, it is expected that any CGT liability for these transactions should still be reported in an individual’s annual tax return where they are already required to submit a return, in addition to any report previously made.

HMRC have allowed a grace period for those transactions completed between 6th April and 30th June, and reported up until 31st July 2020, meaning that any transactions falling within this period will be exempt from penalties for late reporting and/or payment. There will be no grace period for transactions completed on/after 1st July 2020 and therefore it is now essential that potential liability for CGT is considered at the earliest possible stage in any transaction.

The full regulations can be found at gov.uk, but for any uncertainties or clarification, specialist advice must be sought to ensure compliance with the new rules.

Sintons completes significant central Newcastle property purchase

A prominent building in central Newcastle has been acquired by a boutique investor, in a transaction completed by real estate specialists at Sintons.

The city centre property, which houses a retail unit and is partly unoccupied, has been purchased by a family-owned property business with an extensive portfolio across the UK.

The building will continue to house its current tenant, a prominent national retailer, and the new owners will look at options for the remaining part of the building. Development is one avenue the business is currently considering.

The purchase, for an undisclosed sum, was completed by the real estate team at Sintons and marks one of the most significant retail property transactions in Newcastle in recent months.

“This is a prime site in Newcastle city centre and an excellent strategic addition for us. We have a long-standing tenant in the site and they will continue to occupy their unit, but we will be looking at options for the rest of the building,” said the new owner.

“Newcastle is a fantastic city with a national and international reputation for its retail, leisure and residential offering, so we are delighted to add such a prestigious address within NE1 to our property portfolio.”

The transaction was led by Alok Loomba, real estate partner at Sintons, supported by senior associate Louise Kelly.

“This is an excellent acquisition for our client, who have added a very prominent site in Newcastle city centre to their extensive portfolio. They have many options for the unoccupied parts of the building, which they will explore in due course,” said Alok.

“This is one of the most significant retail acquisitions in central Newcastle for some time, and certainly since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, and we worked throughout the lockdown period to complete this deal for our client. We are very pleased to have enabled them to acquire the site.”

Non residential leases of church buildings

Associate Joanne Russell from the Faith Based Institutions department at Sintons recently recorded a podcast concentrating on non residential leases of church buildings for the Methodist Church Trustees.

Historic Durham pub acquired with support from Sintons

A historic Durham city centre pub has been been sold, preserving 16 jobs.

The Court Inn, at Court Lane, has been purchased by Imad Ali who holds investments in retail, leisure and real estate and is currently expanding his leisure and retail operations regionally.

The deal was facilitated by Bradley Hall Chartered Surveyors and Estate Agents.

The purchase has been funded by a seven-figure refinancing brokered by BH Financial Service’s Leigh Taylor and facilitated by Lloyds Bank.

Legal advice was provided by Alok Loomba and his team at Sintons, with Glen Martin at Avery Martin and Paul Shields at MHA Tait Walker also advising on the purchase. Debra Swinburn at Evans and Co law firm acted for the vendor.

Imad Ali, director of SSA Global Group, said: “The Court Inn is an outstanding opportunity for us to invest in an such an iconic, local establishment with a great client base and stunning views of Durham Cathedral.

“The Court Inn will remain open, but we have plans to develop the asset and ensure it is modern and efficient. Our vision is to create an exciting, dynamic and stylish late bar and restaurant with a relaxing atmosphere for locals and alike. We are planning on acquiring further sites in the next year all around the North East, with the help of Bradley Hall.”

Peter Bartley, group director at Bradley Hall, added: “The sale of the Court Inn was a significant transaction for the post-lockdown local leisure and hospitality industry. This was the first of its kind and we were delighted to have acted on behalf of Barry Ford (Easington Greyhound Stadium ltd) and to have helped Imad and his company in purchasing this outstanding piece of the local hospitality culture.

“This is a fantastic indicator of market activity and although we have managed a variety of commercial property transactions recently, this is a great step for this specific industry. With the recent announcements regarding the ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme and the VAT cuts for the sector, we are confident that it will be restored to its former glory and possibly to something bigger and better.”

Lease Code 2020: a move toward making the legal drafting process more efficient

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) have announced the introduction of the Code for Leasing Business Premises, England and Wales, 1st edition (the “Lease Code 2020”) to take effect from 1 September 2020.

The Lease Code 2020 is intended to “to improve the quality and fairness of negotiations on lease terms and to promote the issue of comprehensive heads of terms that should make the legal drafting process more efficient”.

What lettings will the Lease Code 2020 apply to?

The Lease Code 2020 will apply to most lettings of business premises in England and Wales other than:

  1. Agricultural lettings;
  2. Premises used as advertising hoardings or for plant / equipment;
  3. Premises which will be wholly underlet by the tenant;
  4. Leases of less than 6 months in length.

Is the Lease Code 2020 binding?

The Lease Code 2020 replaces the Code for Leasing Business Premises in England and Wales 2007 (the “Lease Code 2007”).  Whilst the Lease Code 2007, which was a voluntary set of “best practice” standards to be followed in lease negotiations, the Lease Code 2020 is a Professional Statement, certain elements of which will be mandatory and binding on RICS members or RICS regulated firms.

Mandatory elements of the Lease Code 2020

The mandatory elements of the Lease Code 2020 are set out in part 2 and provide:

  1. Parties must adopt a constructive and collaborative approach to Lease negotiations;
  2. Where a party to a Lease negotiation is not represented by a RICS member or other property professional they must be advised of the existence of the Lease Code 2020 and its supplemental guidance, and must be advised to seek professional advice;
  3. A landlord or their letting agent must ensure that Heads of Terms containing a minimum level of detail are produced for all new lettings, before the initial draft lease is circulated. The Heads of Terms must contain a minimum level of detail to allow parties to decide whether to enter into the lease, and the Lease Code 2020 contains a template set Heads of Terms which can be utilised for these purposes.

Best practice elements of the Lease Code 2020

The remainder of the Lease Code 2020 sets out best practice standards that should be followed by RICS members / RICS regulated firms in the preparation and negotiation of leases. Whilst such standards are not mandatory, and parties are able to depart from them, RICS may require them to justify any such departure.

Notable matters include:

  1. Break Options – unless otherwise specifically agreed at Heads of Terms stage a tenants break option should be conditional on payment of rent and returning the Property free of subtenant’s / occupiers only. Any stricter conditions require specific agreement.
  2. Rent Deposits – rent deposit agreements should provide that the landlord will hold the rent deposit in an account designated for holding rent deposits only. They should also specify whether the deposit is held as security for the tenants obligation to pay rent only, or to cover all obligations under the lease.
  3. Rent Reviews – where a lease is to contain a rent review the basis of the review should be notified to the tenant at the outset, so they can take early advice as to the implications. The lease should allow either party to start the rent review process.
  4. Underletting – leases should allow tenants to sublet the whole, or part (if appropriate) with landlord consent, and should allow tenants to charge a lease without landlord consent unless the underlease is to contain step-in rights for the lender.
  5. Landlord & Tenant Act 1954 – where a lease is to be excluded from the security of tenure provisions of the Landlord & Tenant Act the tenant should be informed of this at the very outset, to allow them sufficient time to take advice on the implications.
  6. Service Charge – service charge provisions should be drafted to conform with the RICS Professional Statement “Service Charge in Commercial Property”.
  7. Reinstatement – unless an absolute requirement is specifically agreed at Heads of Terms stage landlords should only require a tenant to remove any alterations at the end of the term where it is “reasonable” for them to do so.
  8. Uninsured Damage – leases should allocate responsibility for damage caused by uninsured risks (as well as insured).
  9. Forfeiture – landlords should allow tenants a chance to remedy any default (without loss to the landlord) before seeking to forfeit a lease.

Conclusion

Increased engagement by all parties at negotiation stage is to be welcomed, and the introduction of a “checklist” of matters to be included within Heads of Terms will streamline the process of drafting documentation for solicitors.  From a practical perspective the best practice elements of the Lease Code 2020 will require landlords to engage with their agents at an early stage, to ensure due consideration is given to covenants / obligations that they may previously have taken for granted.

However, given the Lease Code will not be binding on non-RICS members, unless adopted more widely as an industry standard, the practical impact of the changes may be more limited in the short term.

To view a copy of the Lease Code please click here.

For further information, or to arrange a review of documentation to ensure it remains compliant with the Lease Code 2020 please contact Danielle Dale at Sintons on 0191 226 7854 or danielle.dale@sintons.co.uk.

A Q&A with Sintons and Knight Frank

Senior Associates Louise Kelly and Danielle Dale from the Real Estate team at Sintons and Ashleigh Tokarski, Associate Surveyor with Knight Knight in Newcastle, who specialises in residential property development, recently recorded a joint Q&A podcast.

This podcast discusses the effect of COVID-19 on the development market with the aim of assisting clients and developers in these challenging market times, with the continuing political and economic pressures around the property market.

Planning Use Class changes – flexibility going forward?

Last week the Government announced sweeping changes to the Use Classes planning system in England, which has been well established for over 30 years. The changes which take effect on 1 September 2020, subject to a transitional period to 31 July 2021, are substantial to reflect the increasing diversity of town centres and are aimed at providing flexibility to businesses, particularly in response to the economic impact of the pandemic.

The current system has four main Use Classes categories; Class A – retail, food and drink, Class B – offices and other places of work, Class C – places of residence and Class D – institutions and leisure uses. The result of the changes will be out with the individual commercial classifications of Classes A1, A2, A3 and B1 and in with a new use class, to be known as Class E ‘Commercial, Business and Service’. Class E will cover a range of uses including retail (A1), cafes and restaurants (A2), financial and professional services (A3), offices (B1), indoor sport and recreation, medical or health services (to visiting members of the public), crèche, day nursery and day centres (D1 and D2).

With such a wide breadth this has, effectively, reduced the planning controls to the position where the ‘market will decide’ what is suitable and commercially viable for the high street. This flexibility is likely to be welcome to many town centres owners, making it easier to obtain a tenant of an empty retail unit for an alternative Use Class E use without the need for planning permission. However this could result in the dilution of areas that were, previously, allocated as high street retail shops with former shop units being converted into non-retail functions.

The changes are likely to have a wider impact on the property market for landlords and tenants, with many rent reviews based on comparable evidence of specific uses, linked to a designated Use Class. The breadth of Class E could lead to some unexpected results. Outside the planning regime tenant’s may want to consider whether they want to vary the use limitations in their existing leases, which may not provide them with the flexibility proposed by the legislation.

However, there are some noteworthy exclusions from Class E, which have been moved to the ‘sui generis’ Class, meaning that specific planning permission will need to be obtained. The exclusions include drinking establishments (formerly A4), ‘hot food takeaways’ (A5) and cinemas and bingo halls (D2). With growing concerns about obesity in the population the hot food take away exclusion was expected and the removal of pubs and cinemas is to ensure long term protection of premises that have substantial community value.

There are to be new Use Classes F1 and F2; Class F1 – schools, libraries and galleries which are regularly in the wider public use (former D1) and Class F2 – ’local community uses’ which is to include uses such as swimming pools, skating rinks and areas for outdoor sports (former D2) and local community space. Some areas are to remain materially unchanged; Class C – residential purposes, general industrial (Class B1) and storage and distribution (Class B8).

Operationally flexibility is welcome in these times of uncertainly, removing constraints to support and promote innovation and to revitalise high streets. However, as a cautionary comment, due to the dilution of control and concerns about the mix of uses in certain areas it may transpire that Councils will use statutory powers to impose limitations, like Article 4 Directions which remove permitted development rights. Hopefully those powers will only be used sparingly, where commercially appropriate. Over the next few months it certainly seems to be one of watch this space.

Click here to view our use classes guide.

Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector

As we emerge from lockdown and the property sector begins to show positive signs of movement, landlords must make themselves familiar with changes which have taken effect during the past few weeks.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the current continual changes in guidance and easing of restrictions, the introduction of the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, which took effect on June 1, may easily have been overlooked.

The regulations cover electrical safety standards in the private rental sector, and apply to both short and long-term lettings, including those to farm workers, cottages on estates and residential investment portfolios.

For any tenancy agreement signed on or since June 1, the new regulations will be enforced from July 1. For existing tenancies, so those signed before June 1, they become affected by the new standards from April 1, 2021.

For landlords and tenants who have been in a tenancy for some time, there are several months to get up to speed, but for new tenancies, the need becomes more urgent – and despite everything else that may be going on in the world, ignorance will be no defence.

As of when the rules take effect, it will become a landlord’s duty to find a ‘qualified and competent’ person to inspect the property at least every five years, to ensure all electrical installations in the property they are letting are safe. A report must be written by the person conducting the inspection which sets out the results, and a copy must be given to any existing tenants within 28 days of the inspection.

New tenants must be given a copy of the report before they occupy the premises, and the report must also be shared with prospective tenants within 28 days of them requesting this information. If requested by a local authority, the report must be supplied within seven days.

For tenants, they now have additional assurance the home they rent will be safe, and they will be given written evidence of this. The powers of the local authorities are also clearly stated, and tenants have the protection of them being able to enforce necessary action or repairs if the landlord does not undertake this work.

If remedial work is required, the inspection will set out how urgent this is, and local authorities can intervene to request this is done within 28 days, or in the most serious of cases, carry out work themselves with costs recoverable against the landlord. However, a landlord will not be in breach of their duty if they can show they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with their obligations, such as if they have been unable to gain access to the property or the tenants prevented work taking place.

While many landlords will complete such inspections anyway, it has now become a legal requirement to do so. Failure to comply carries a fine of up to £30,000, so it is important these new regulations are adhered to and that necessary action is taken.

The full requirements of the regulations can be found at gov.uk, but for any uncertainties or clarification, specialist advice must be sought to ensure compliance with the rules.

  • Tom Wills is head of agriculture and estates at Sintons. The specialist team works from its offices in Newcastle and York to support families and businesses across Northumberland, County Durham, North Yorkshire and Cumbria. To speak to Tom about this or any other matter, please contact him on wills@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 3796

Duval vs 11-13 Randolph Crescent Ltd: Considerations for Landlords of Residential Apartment Blocks

The Supreme Court has recently passed judgement in the case of Duval v 11-13 Randolph Crescent Ltd [2020] UKSC 18; a case of significant importance for both landlords and tenants of residential apartment blocks.

Issue

The issue considered in this case was whether a landlord can give consent to what would otherwise be a breach of a tenant covenant, where they are under an obligation of “mutual enforcement” to other tenants within the building.

Background

In Duval, the building consisted of nine flats each let on 125-year leases.  Each lease was drafted on similar terms, and included a “mutual enforceability covenant” whereby the Landlord is required, at the cost and request of a tenant, to enforce the covenants contained in the Lease against a co-tenant.

The Landlord received a request for consent from Tenant A for consent to carry out works to their flat, which included the removal of part of a load bearing wall at basement level. This would be in breach of  an absolute covenant contained within their Lease at clause 2.7 “not to…cut maim or injure or suffer to be cut maimed or injured any roof wall or ceiling within or enclosing the Demised Premises…”.

The Landlord was minded to grant the consent, subject only to a requirement that Tenant A ensure they had suitable insurance in place.

Another flat owner within the building, Tenant B, issued proceedings for a declaration that the Landlord did not have the power to grant the consent, as the Landlord had covenanted with the other tenants in the building to mutually enforce any absolute covenants on the request (and at the cost of) a co-tenant.

Ruling

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Tenant B and agreed that in authorising what would otherwise be in breach of covenant the Landlord rendered themselves unable to comply with their obligation of mutual enforcement.

The Court found there was an implied covenant in each Lease that the Landlord could not put out of their power the ability to enforce covenants where requested (and required) to do so, by authorising a tenant to do something that would otherwise be in breach of covenant.

Considerations for Landlords

It is commonplace for modern day residential leases to include mutual enforceability covenants.

Whilst the judgment in Duvall related to a covenant as to alterations, it has more far reaching implications, and can be applied to any other absolute unqualified tenant covenants within a Lease.

In light of this judgment a Landlord would be well advised to consider, on receipt of an application for consent, not only whether they are minded to grant the consent, but also whether it is actually within their power to do so.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any business matter, please contact us.

Encouraging steps on the way forward for commercial tenants

With the next quarters rental payment date fast approaching and with financial pressures coming from all directions we are seeing many tenants becoming increasingly anxious and struggling to see how they will be able to continue in a post pandemic world. The issue by the Government on Friday (19th June) of its ‘Code of Practise for commercial property relations during the Covid-19 pandemic’ is certainly a welcome step, encouraging landlords and tenants to work together for the greater good of the economy in the longer term.

As seems clear the economic disruption of the pandemic is likely to have an impact for many months to come, if not longer. The aim behind the guidance is to encourage landlords and tenants of commercial properties to collaborate to facilitate the economy recovering as swiftly as possible. In the North East steps are already being taken that encapsulate the spirit behind the Government guidance with landlords such as UK Land Estates offering support to its tenants with rent free periods in exchange for lease variations.

The initial steps taken by the Government, at the outbreak of the pandemic, to provide tenants with a degree of breathing space included a halt on the ability to terminate leases by the forfeiture mechanism, changes to the commercial rent rates recovery process and substantial business rate relief. This new guidance aims to take the next steps forward, as we move out of lock down.

The Code, however welcome, is only guidance. It does not change the legal position contained in the contractual lease between the parties. It is acknowledged in the Code that every landlord and tenant relationship is different with a wide variety of competing financial and fiduciary pressures on both but it encourages each to act in good faith, reasonably and flexibly in line with the principles outlined in the Code, for the greater good of economic recovery.

Where a tenant is not able to pay all or some of its rent the Code encourages tenants to open communications with its landlord, to see if a mutually beneficial solution can be achieved. Communication is key. The Code wants tenants to be able to feel that they can contact landlords, open dialogue about the financial impact of the pandemic and see if an arrangement can be reached which could affect whether or not a tenant is able to  survive. As part of those discussions tenants should be prepared to be transparent and provided landlords with relevant financial information. However before providing any such information tenants may want to consider protecting details that are commercially sensitive.

The Code usefully provides a list of areas that a landlord may want to consider such as how long the tenant’s business has been closed and the resultant impact, any restricted trading and additional expenditure as a result of social distancing and any Government assistance. It also helpfully provides suggested options to consider such as rent free periods, payment of rent over a reduced time period i.e. monthly or weekly and rent reductions over designated periods of time. The list in the Code isn’t intended to be exhaustive but to provide guidance, to encourage discussions between the parties. As well as the annual rent discussion could also take place around other charges i.e. contributions towards the landlord’s insurance premium and service charge obligations.

With many leading organisation such as the British Retail Consortium and RICS having signed up to the Code until 24th June 2021, hopefully, the next steps forward will see landlords and tenants working together for the greater good, even though there may be pain in the short term. Sintons has been working closely with its clients and intermediaries during the pandemic on a wide variety of landlord and tenant issues and if it can assist in any way please get in contact with either myself or one of the team.

Housebuilder overcomes COVID-19 challenges to remain on track

The North East house builder behind the redevelopment of a Tyneside pub site is pushing on with the launch of the project having successfully overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19 lockdown.

Work on Woodacre Mews, in Wallsend, has continued during the period to ensure work continued to progress to timescale, with developer Woodacre Homes ensuring it at all times complied with social distancing measures for the safety of its employees.

The 12-home development – which is regenerating the site of the derelict Bogie Chain pub – is now launching its show home, and is introducing new ways of touring the property to assist as distancing measures continue to be enforced.

The show home will offer virtual 3D tours, is available on the Woodacre Homes website, and in-person tours can be made by appointment and prospective buyers will be unaccompanied on their viewing.

Woodacre Mews remains on track for completion in September, and interest in the development of four-bedroom townhouses has been high despite the significant drop in movement in the property market.

Steve Frith, director of Woodacre Homes, said: “While much of the economy has come to a halt, the construction sector has continued with many projects, and we have taken great care to ensure work on Woodacre Mews has been done in a safe manner, observing social distancing rules at all times. Our team have done a fantastic job and it’s thanks to their efforts that we remain on track.

“We have continued to receive a strong level of enquiries from potential buyers throughout the lockdown period, which has been very encouraging, so we were keen to show them the show home at the earliest opportunity. By turning to technology and offering unaccompanied visits, we can ensure viewings can be done while ensuring the safety of all concerned. Woodacre Mews has been so long in the planning and is designed and built to the highest of specifications, and we are very excited to showcase what we have created.”

Woodacre Homes has been supported in its site acquisition and development by real estate specialists at law firm Sintons, with partner Tom Wills leading the team.

“The effect of COVID-19 on the property market has been well documented, but it is great to see a regional house builder continuing to show ambition and deliver their project,” said Tom.

“Woodacre Mews is a very welcome development for this area, regenerating the site of a derelict pub and bringing much-needed family housing to the community. The fact interest has been high even while the property market at large has struggled tells its own story and we wish Steve and his team every success in completing the development.”

COVID-19 Q&A | Sintons | The Impact on Landlords of Commercial Property

During these unprecedented times, where the situation is changing on a daily basis, we are aware that individuals and business owners will have many questions and uncertainties about how these developments impact on them.

Here, through a series of Q&A with expert lawyers from across our firm, Sintons hopes to be able to answer some of those pressing questions, and provide some certainty and clarity for people who are unsure how to proceed.

We will bring you a question and answer per day for the next few weeks.

In response to the global pandemic of COVID-19 the UK government introduced new extensive laws to help mitigate the virus’s impact on the country. The Coronavirus Act 2020 ( “the Act”) achieved royal assent on the 25 March 2020 and, in addition to providing the legal basis for the ongoing ‘lockdown’ of UK citizens, it sought to protect tenants of leases of commercial property who were struggling to pay rent by placing a temporary restriction on re-entry or forfeiture for non-payment of rent. As a result, landlords have been left in a difficult position with the Act affecting how they manage their buildings and their rental income.

Some of the potential questions that landlords may have in relation to dealing with commercial property in the current pandemic and under the Act are explored below, but we would advise that specific legal advice is sought before any action is taken.

Q – What options are available to me if my tenant is not paying their rent under the lease?

A –Under the Act landlords are unable to re-enter premises or forfeit leases due to non-payment of rent. The provisions were originally stated to only last for an initial period up to the 30 June 2020. However, the Act also allows that the government may extend this period. It is important to note that the Act does not suspend the landlord’s right to rent or other payments under the lease and therefore interest will begin to accrue on the rent that has not been paid.

One option therefore for landlords if their tenant is not paying rent is Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery (“CRAR”). CRAR is a process that allows for landlords to instruct an enforcement agent to take control of goods belonging to the tenant and to then sell these goods to cover the debt owed. However, there are some key points that a landlord must consider before pursuing this route. CRAR can only be used in relation to the principal rent under the lease and cannot be used to recover sums such as service charge and insurance rent, the Act also restricted landlords from using CRAR unless they are owed 90 days’ worth of rent and a landlord should consider from a commercial perspective whether the seizing of tenant’s goods to cover non-payment of rent is simply going to result in the tenant not being able to pay any further rent in the future.

Another option that will be available to some landlords is withdrawing sums from rent deposits received from tenants at the outset of the lease. Most rent deposit deeds will allow for the landlord to make withdrawals from the deposit in the event of the tenant being in breach of the lease (in this case non-payment of rent). Additionally, most rent deposit deeds will have provisions in them that require a tenant to top up the deposit following any withdrawal so this may well be a potential option to landlords who have rent deposits with their tenants.

Q – Do I have to provide ‘deep cleaning’ and additional services to comply with regulations? Can I recover the costs of these from my tenants?

This will depend on the terms of your lease. If the lease contains a landlord covenant to clean and keep safe the common parts of a building or property this may well be interpreted to cover deep cleaning of the property and complying with the new regulations imposed by the Act. Even if there is no such wording in the lease most landlords are now taking pragmatic steps in relation to more thorough cleansing of common areas and frequently touched surfaces. If you are a landlord of a building/centre where you employ managing agents you will also have to consider complying with your obligations under UK health and safety law which requires landlords to take all reasonable practicable action to ensure the health and safety of the people that they employ.

Implementing measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 will no doubt come at a cost to landlords. However, most leases including service charge provisions will contain clauses allowing for the landlord to recover costs spent in relation to good estate management. Additionally, leases are likely to include a clause stating that the landlord can recover costs incurred as required by statute so landlords should consider seeking to recover the costs incurred through the service charge.

Q – Do I have to entertain any requests from my tenant to vary their lease due to COVID-19?

Unless there is a specific provision in the lease the answer to this question is likely to be no. Landlords are facing difficult decisions regarding the long term benefits of supporting tenants while also considering the financial impact on their own business and also the obligations they may have to their lenders. Within the market, we are seeing landlords accommodating requests by tenants to pay monthly for a period instead of quarterly to assist cash flow. Also, tenants have been requesting rent deferrals and/or rent-free periods. Landlords need to carefully document such arrangements and be clear as to whether rent is deferred and still due. We can assist with the production of simple legally binding agreements to deal with such matters.

Q – Should I be including new wording in my leases to cover pandemics such as COVID-19?

Careful consideration must be given before any contractual provisions are agreed. We are seeing some wording put forward by tenant’s representatives that is very wide ranging and consequently unacceptable. The most likely scenario where wording will be needed is to cover circumstances where a party must complete an act by a set date. For example, an agreement for lease may contain obligations to complete works by a specified date. A well advised party should be seeking to include provisions that allow for time periods to be extended . We can advise on such provisions in the context of all types of agreements and lease.

If you would like further information on how landlords should respond on their commercial leases, please contact Alex Wilkins or a member of the Real Estate Team at Sintons.

Permitted development rights for farm building conversion

To many people’s thinking, one of the most successful rural planning policies of recent times has been allowing the conversion of farm buildings to residential use under Permitted Development Rights (PDR). After all, why not utilise redundant traditional farm buildings in order to provide additional rural housing?

Up until 2014, full planning consent was required to convert any farm building to residential use. As these buildings invariably are located outside existing settlements, planning applications were often refused and the buildings continued to decay. In April 2014, the conversion of agricultural buildings was included under Class Q of Permitted Development Rights, but only for three units with a maximum combined floor area of 450m2.

Following a consultation, the PDRs were extended in April 2018 and there is now the opportunity to develop a larger area. It is now possible to create up to three large homes, with a combined floor area of not more than 465m2, or five smaller homes with none being bigger than 100m2, or a combination of both.

Prior approval is required from the Planning Authority before carrying out the development, but this should be much easier to obtain than full planning permission.

What is not to like? Old rural buildings, which are now of little or no use for modern agriculture, being converted to provide rural homes. However, as is the way in life, such a process is not to everybody’s liking. The Local Government Association is now lobbying to have this PDR removed and farm building conversion brought back under full planning control. It argues that this uncontrolled rural development is putting undue strain on infrastructure and service provision. Whether this is the case, or whether it just desires local authorities to exercise full control again, I will leave you to decide.

What this does suggest is that the opportunity to develop old farm buildings without the need to seek full planning permission will not last forever, so make the most of it while you can.

Should you do so, you should also consider how to make the most of the opportunity. The current ownership structure may not be the most tax efficient. If the buildings are owned by the business, should they be moved out prior to the PDR being exercised? Does it provide the opportunity for the next generation to have a home on the holding? Can it be in joint ownership to make the most of Capital Gains Tax exemptions?

As is so often the case, a little bit of input from your professional advisors prior to going ahead could be money well spent indeed.

If you have any matters that you would like to discuss then please do not hesitate to speak to Tom Wills or his specialist team of rural advisors.  His contact details are tom.wills@sintons.co.uk and 0191 226 3796.

Ask the Experts weekly Q&A from Sintons’ Employment Team – episode 4

Ask the Experts weekly Q&A from Sintons’ Employment Team – episode 4 – with Keith Land and Ailsa Hobson.

These sessions have come about due to the employment team here at Sintons having been inundated with COVID-19 and furlough questions following the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the ever changing government guidance.

The team has also been giving some thought as to what work may look like following the relaxation of the current restrictions.

So, In order to give you an opportunity to share in some of that wisdom, the team have opened themselves up to these Q&A sessions which are going to last until the end of May. During these short, bite sized sessions, members of the employment team will answer three questions, although it will actually be four today, (either COVID-19 related or not) that you haven’t either quite got to the bottom of or that your employees persistently ask you.

Please click on the image below to watch the session.

Planning guidance for the housing market

With the issue of new guidance by the Government, with a view to restarting the housing market, developers should also be aware of the recommendations and changes to the planning process and payments due under CIL and planning agreements.

In the current public health crisis local planning authorities have had to quickly adapt as there is pressure to keep the planning process moving, due to the role of planning in terms of long term economic development. With cancelled physical planning committees and most planning officers working from home the guidance, which came in to force on 14 May 2020, has brought forward several practical measures to assist They include:

  • Applications – recommending that applications, with all relevant documentation, are submitted online. Paper applications can still be submitted but as this requires staff to be in the Council offices there may be a delay in processing.
  • Determination – the statutory time periods for determining applications have not changed but it has been acknowledged that those time frames may not be achievable during lock down.  The option to appeal against non-determination remains but the guidance encourages the parties agreeing time extensions.
  • Consultation – as part of the planning application process the planning authority has consultation obligations. As some elements can’t be discharged i.e. neighbour notifications, site and newspaper notices the guidance advises that steps should be taken to notify those who are likely to have an interest by way of social media or some other form of electronic communications, explaining the availability of  further information online. This is an important step to keep the planning process moving and the indication is that more guidance will be issued to clarify the practical implementation of the steps.
  • Decision making – the recommendation is to hold virtual planning committees, which follows on from the guidance that was issued in April. Certainly, a number of Councils are taking that forward, but many are still trying to iron out the specific details and practicalities. In addition, the recommendation is for emergency powers, contained in Council constitutions, to be used and to delegate further powers to designated officers.

In it not just the practicalities of the process the guidance has considered but also, where there are additional financial pressures, the deferment of existing obligations. In areas where the Community Infrastructure Levy or CIL applies the guidance recognises that developers may be struggling to make the payments. To assist the proposal is to make changes to the CIL regulations, giving Councils the ability to defer payments for small and medium sized developers, without facing penalties and interest.  In terms of enforcement the proposal is that Councils will have additional discretionary powers, where there are financial pressures on developers and the indication is that this will be used for developers who have an annual turnover of less than £45million. The changes are pending formal approval, by way of legislation, but in the meantime, authorities are being recommended to consider using its discretion and provide flexibility. How that is interpreted, in the short term, may depend on each authority’s own financial position.

The same principle is being encouraged in connection with financial payments due under s106 planning agreements. Authorities are being asked to consider whether it is appropriate to defer the payment, during the current health crisis, taking a pragmatic approach to try and minimise disruption on the delivery of sites.

Overall, the proposals are a positive step to keep the housing market moving forward, but interpretation will depend on each local authority.