SSE challenges Airports Commission at the High Court on “apparent bias” due to involvement of Geoff Muirhead
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has launched a High Court bid to force the Airports Commission to revise its work on the future of aviation expansion in the UK. SSE’s case, asking that the Airports Commission should re-determine its so-called “sift criteria” for assessing growth options, was heard by Mrs Justice Patterson. SSE claims that the sift criteria process was infected by apparent bias because Geoff Muirhead, then still a member of the Commission, had worked as Chief Executive for – and continued to work for – MAG. The sift criteria will ultimately guide the Commission in its final decision on where any new runways in the UK should be built. SSE’s barrister, Paul Stinchcombe QC, argued that Mr Muirhead’s resignation was too late to save the sift criteria proceedings and that his involvement had tainted and was continuing to taint the activities and decisions of the commission by reason of apparent bias. The DfT said “there is no evidence whatsoever of bias and the Airports Commission is content that decisions taken to date are robust.” The Commission said its processes to date were “appropriate and robust”. Mrs Justice Patterson said she will make a decision on the matter in writing at a later date.
SSE takes battle with Airports Commission to High Court over Stansted ‘bias’
Written by COURT REPORTER (Herts and Essex Observer)
The claim centres on the role that Geoff Muirhead, former chief executive of the Manchester Airports Group (MAG), played in the panel which considered the sift criteria. Those findings will ultimately guide the commission in its final decision on where any new runways in the UK should be built.
Although Mr Muirhead retired as chief executive in October 2010, and MAG only bought Stansted after he was appointed to the commission in November 2012, the group says he was still working as an ambassador for £75,000 a year when he sat on the panel. And, although he resigned from the commission in September, Paul Stinchcombe QC argued today that this was too late to save the sift criteria proceedings.
He continued: “Mr Muirhead had tainted and was continuing to taint the activities and decisions of the commission by reason of apparent bias.”
He claimed that, despite the group bringing this to the attention of the commission and the Secretary of State for Transport, for almost eight months they “resolutely refused to take any action” and allowed Mr Muirhead to remain on the five-man commission.
He said that the sift criteria “set the direction of travel” for the commission and appeared “very strongly to favour the expansion of Stansted”. This he added, would be to the potential considerable advantage of MAG.
MAG has submitted two proposals to the commission – a two runway option and a four runway hub airport which he said “would make Stansted the largest airport in the world”.
Since Mr Muirhead stood down in September, in the wake of pre-action letters from the group, Mr Stinchcombe said that the commission and the Secretary of State have refused to comply with requests from the group to look afresh at the sift criteria.
He continued: “They did so notwithstanding that the replies to the pre-application protocol letters confirmed, for the first time, that Mr Muirhead had participated in their determination; and notwithstanding that we now know that, when the commission determined the sift criteria, Mr Muirhead was aware, or ought to have been aware, of proposals for the significant expansion of Stansted.”
The challenge is being brought by Peter Sanders, pictured, and Brian Ross, SSE’s chairman and economics advisor respectivly.
Mr Stinchcombe explained: “One of the main difficulties associated with expanding Stansted beyond its existing runway is that this would have very serious landscape and cultural heritage impacts, far more so than in respect of the expansion of any other airport location.”
The commission maintains that Mr Muirhead’s resignation preceded any evaluation by it of the proposal for the expansion of Stansted and that a fair-minded and informed observer with knowledge of the circumstances would not have concerns that there was a real possibility of bias.
It says that the claim is far too late to challenge consideration of the sift criteria in May and that the contention that consideration was infected by apparent bias is “fundamentally flawed”. It says that in the pre-action correspondence, the group had sought Mr Muirhead’s resignation and therefore its main objective had been achieved.
The judge is to reserve her decision in order to give it in writing at a later date.
There was much debate between the legal teams on the concept of what the “fair minded individual” would think, whether any bias might have an “operational effect”, and of the precautionary principle.
Stop Stansted Expansion in Airports Commission High Court ruling call
Criteria underpinning decisions over new runways are “infected by apparent bias”, a campaign group claims.
The Airports Commission was set up in 2012 to examine runway capacity and future “connectivity needs”.
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) claims a former commissioner had a conflict of interest and says the High Court should delay any publication of options.
The Department for Transport denies claims of bias and said “decisions taken to date are robust”.
At the High Court in London, Mrs Justice Patterson said she will make a decision on the matter in writing at a later date.
The campaign group’s claims centre on the role of Geoff Muirhead, who is a former former chief executive of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the owners of Stansted since February.
In September, he stepped down as one of the five commissioners appointed by the Commission after SSE warned Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin they would take legal action if he stayed.
SSE claims he retired as MAG’s chief executive after 22 years with the group but was then immediately reappointed as “a highly paid ambassador to MAG, a role he continued to fulfil even after he was appointed to the Airports Commission”.
Brian Ross, SSE’s economics adviser, said: “With proposals on the table from MAG to make Stansted the world’s busiest airport with four runways handling up to 160 million passengers a year, there is far too much at stake to allow the issue of apparent bias to go unchallenged.
“For almost a year, Mr Muirhead was allowed to play a pivotal role on the commission as its only commissioner with first hand knowledge and experience of the aviation industry.”
Mr Ross said it was not enough simply to remove Mr Muirhead from the Commission.
SSE wants the High Court to order the commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, “to re-visit certain key decisions made by the Commission during the time that Mr Muirhead was involved”.
The Department for Transport maintain that Mr Muirhead “acted properly” at the commission but stood down to “avoid any perception of a potential conflict of interest”.
A DfT spokesman said: “Both the department and Sir Howard agree that there is no evidence whatsoever of bias and the Airports Commission is content that decisions taken to date are robust.”
An Airports Commission spokesman rejected SSE’s claims and described its processes to date as “appropriate and robust”.
The spokesman said its selection criteria “were informed by public consultation and incorporate a wide range of environmental, economic and social factors – including local environmental issues such as impacts on landscape and the built heritage.”
Stop Stansted Expansion lodged papers at High Court alleging Airports Commission criteria “infected by apparent bias” due to Geoff Muirhead
October 15, 2013
The Stop Stansted Expansion group (SSE) have lodged papers at the Royal Courts of Justice alleging that the criteria being applied to decide on possible options for new runway sites in England are “infected by apparent bias”. SSE want High Court judges to order the Government-appointed Airports Commission to delay the publication of any shortlist of options until the “sift criteria” have been re-determined. They argue that there was apparent bias because Geoff Muirhead, a recently-resigned member of the Commission, had a conflict of interest. Mr Muirhead is a former chief executive of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the owners of Stansted since February. He stepped down from the Commission three weeks ago after SSE warned Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin they would take legal action if he stayed. “For almost a year, Mr Muirhead was allowed to play a pivotal role on the Commission.” The High Court is being asked to order the Commission “to re-visit certain key decisions made by the Commission during the time that Mr Muirhead was involved”. Brian Ross, from SSE, said: “With proposals on the table from MAG to make Stansted the world’s busiest airport with four runways handling up to 160 million passengers a year, there is far too much at stake to allow the issue of apparent bias to go unchallenged.” Click here to view full story…
Stop Stansted Expansion calls time on Airports Commission and DfT with High Court challenge on 14th October
October 13, 2013
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has called time on the Airports Commission and the Secretary of State for Transport and on 14th October will file a Judicial Review application to ensure fairness in determining the way forward on the issue of aviation capacity. Specifically, SSE will be asking the High Court to order the Commission to re-determine the ‘sift criteria’ (in effect the selection criteria) for assessing airport expansion options and to delay the publication of any shortlist of options until the sift criteria have been re-determined. SSE’s legal challenge is on the grounds of apparent bias and concerns the role played by Mr Geoff Muirhead, one of five commissioners appointed to the Airports Commission last year. Mr Muirhead resigned from the Airports Commission three weeks ago, after an initial intervention by SSE’s lawyers. Details will be available from 12 noon on 14th October. Brian Ross, from SSE, said: “With proposals on the table from MAG to make Stansted the world’s busiest airport with four runways handling up to 160 million passengers a year, there is far too much at stake to allow the issue of apparent bias to go unchallenged.”