Mr Nathan owned 263-265 Walworth Rd, Southwark, London before 1930, and the London City Council the road. It planned to widen it, encroaching on a strip of land separating his shop from the road. The LCC bought the freehold of the strip, but agreed he could use it until the project went ahead, and he would pay £30 a year in rent ‘until the strip of land is needed for road-widening’. But by 1988 the road had not been widened and the London Residuary Body, successor of the LCC held it. Prudential Assurance Ltd now held the strip and LRB wished to end Prudential’s right to use the strip. Valuers put the strip at £10,000 a year. Prudential argued it could not get possession because there was no road widening yet.
Lord Templeman held the tenancy was too uncertain to be effective, and thus had not created a binding lease. Lord Browne-Wilkinson noted that any successor in title for Mr Nathan would not have land that faced onto the road. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory.
The bizarre outcome results from the application of an ancient and technical rule of law which requires the maximum duration of a term of years to be ascertainable from the outset. No one has produced any satisfactory rationale for the genesis of this rule. No one has been able to point to any useful purpose that it serves at the present day. If, by overruling the existing authorities, this House were able to change the law for the future only I would have urged your Lordships to do so.