BLP advises on NATS' £100m lease for new headquarters

Berwin Leighton Paisner has closed its first property deal for National Air Traffic Services (NATS), as the beleaguered group continues to negotiate its financial restructuring.

The property deal, which The Lawyer understands is worth around £100m, is for the leasing of space for new headquarters on Arlington's Solent Business Park in Hampshire.

But while BLP won the property work, NATS has once again turned to Lovells – Roddy McKean and Gavin Smythe – for advice on the restructure. Lovells first advised NATS on the public to private partnership in July 2001, when it won a pitch for the work, and has since become NATS' primary adviser, although the company uses a number of different firms. The Lawyer understands that NATS has also previously instructed Shoosmiths on property transactions.

General counsel Kate Gregory declined to comment on why BLP had been appointed on the headquarters' lease. NATS has previously instructed BLP on employment matters.

The company looks set to generate further work for BLP. “We have already received other instructions,” said Candice Blackwood, the real estate partner that led the team.

The property deal was funded by Abbey National, Barclays Capital, Bank of America and HBOS – the four banks with which the company is currently negotiating its rescue package. The banks were advised by CMS Cameron McKenna.

Project finance partner Andrew Ivison, who led the deal, is also advising the banks on the current financial restructuring of the company. NATS is expected to sign a deal with its banks to reduce its existing debt from £760m to £630m.

Airline operator BAA – advised by Herbert Smith – is understood to be injecting £65m. Herbert Smith has also previously acted for NATS on the project finance side.

The Government is being advised by Slaughter and May, which won the work back in 1998 when the Government first announced the privatisation of the business. Slaughters elbowed out the other magic circle firms after a beauty parade, and then advised on the original public-private partnership.

Norton Rose is advising the Airline Group, a client it has acted for since its formation in March 2001.

The restructure looks set to close at the beginning of February. In the meantime, Ryanair has tried to stick a spanner in the works by launching a complaint with the Office of Fair Trading. As part of the restructure, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has agreed to allow NATS to raise air traffic control fees, a point that Ryanair is seeking to challenge.

Ryanair has for the first time instructed boutique London firm Lane & Partners on the challenge. Lane & Partners also acts for Buzz.

Ryanair's head of regulatory affairs Jim Callaghan said: “If we're going to be forced to make an investment, we should receive an equitable return.”

Callaghan said that he had turned to Lane & Partners because the firm had previous experience of hearings before the CAA and work in the airline industry. CAA has appointed long-term adviser Richards Butler on the restructuring.