Stop Stansted Expansion says of the Airports Commission: A tainted process – a dubious conclusion
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) is disappointed that the Airports Commission has formed the preliminary view that extra runway capacity is needed in the south east of England. In his speech on 7th October 2013, the chairman of the Airports Commission, Sir Howard Davies said that his Commission had not been persuaded by the arguments against expansion. In SSE’s view, the arguments for more runway capacity in the south east are dangerously weak and they will be taking up Sir Howard’s invitation to comment on his preliminary conclusions. SSE believes the UK, as a whole, already has more than enough runway capacity to meet the DfT forecasts to 2050, and well beyond. Regarding the recent resignation of Geoff Muirhead from the Commission, due to ties with MAG, SSE said they are mounting a legal challenge on bias – due to Mr Muirhead’s influence – in formulating the “sift criteria” and there will be more information on that next week.
Airports Commission: A tainted process – a dubious conclusion
8.10.2013 (Stop Stansted Expansion)
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) is disappointed that the Airports Commission has formed the preliminary view that extra runway capacity is needed in the south east of England.
In his speech on 7th October 2013, the chairman of the Airports Commission, Sir Howard Davies said that his Commission had not been persuaded by the arguments against expansion.
In SSE’s view, the arguments for more runway capacity in the south east are dangerously weak and we will be taking up Sir Howard’s invitation to comment on his preliminary conclusions in the course of the coming month.
SSE will continue to argue the case that the UK, as a whole, already has more than enough runway capacity to meet the Department for Transport forecasts to 2050, and well beyond.
In the meantime SSE notes that the only member of Sir Howard’s Commission with first-hand knowledge and experience of the aviation industry, Geoff Muirhead, continued to work for the Manchester Airport Group (MAG), the owners of Stansted Airport, right up to the time when he was appointed as a Commissioner and indeed beyond that. Mr Muirhead, who has long been a keen advocate of airport expansion, resigned from the Commission less than three weeks ago ‘by mutual consent’ with the Secretary of State when the issue of apparent bias was raised.
SSE Chairman, Peter Sanders, commented: “In view of Mr Muirhead’s position we can have no confidence that the work of the Commission has been free from bias. We had already decided to mount a legal challenge relating to the sift criteria – i.e. the selection criteria which the Commission would use if and when it considers the comparative merits of different options for expansion. We shall be continuing with this challenge and expect to be able to say more about this next week.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
· Apart from Manchester, MAG owns three other UK airports, including Stansted, and after retiring as chief executive of MAG, three years ago, Mr Muirhead was appointed as an ambassador to the Group and seemingly paid £164,000 per annum – a position he held until earlier this year. In addition he was in receipt of a MAG pension of £95,000 per annum.
· As the former chief executive of MAG, Mr Muirhead was a strong advocate for building new airport capacity. Indeed, one of his main achievements was the development of a second runway at Manchester Airport.
· See also SSE press releases of 19 August and 20 September (copied below) at http://www.stopstanstedexpansion.com/media.html
A Fight for Fairness
Earlier today, lawyers acting for Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) served formal notice on the Secretary of State for Transport requiring the removal of Mr Geoff Muirhead from the Airports Commission on the grounds of apparent bias.
This is the first formal legal step towards judicial review proceedings which will commence with an application to the High Court in early September if Mr Muirhead continues to serve on the Airports Commission.
Mr Muirhead is the former Chief Executive of the Manchester Airports Group (MAG) the company which now owns Stansted Airport. His biography as published by the Airports Commission states that he retired from his role as Chief Executive of MAG in October 2010, after 22 years with the Group. However, it fails to point out that, after retiring as Group Chief Executive, and indeed, after being appointed to the Airports Commission, Mr Muirhead continued to work for MAG in a highly paid role until January 2013.
SSE discovered these facts only after its own investigations, including a review of the MAG financial accounts for the year ending 31 March 2011, which showed that Mr Muirhead was paid £82,000 by MAG during the six months from October 2010 to March 2011 inclusive for acting as an ‘ambassador’ to the Group. [see notes below] The accounts also show that, as at 31 March 2011, Mr Muirhead had accumulated a pension lump sum of £450,000 and had an accrued MAG pension of £95,000.
Up until last month, SSE was pursuing this matter quietly, behind the scenes, with Sir Howard Davies, the Chairman of the Airports Commission, and the Secretary of State for Transport. We had hoped that Mr Muirhead would have by now voluntarily stood down from the Commission so as to avoid bringing into question the Commission’s independence and impartiality. However, that has not been the case and so we are now seeking legal redress.
SSE Chairman Peter Sanders commented: “Now that MAG is directly lobbying the Airports Commission for major expansion at Stansted, we believe there is far too much at stake to allow Mr Muirhead’s role as a Commissioner to go unchallenged.”
Mr Sanders continued: “It is only after the most careful consideration that we have decided to initiate legal proceedings but we believe we have a duty to the community that we represent to ensure that the issues regarding potential airport expansion are examined fairly, impartially and independently – and that this is seen to be the case.”
Mr Sanders concluded: “Legal proceedings are, of course, very expensive and we need to fund this from donations from our members and the general public. However, the initial response has been very encouraging, indicating that the community shares our concern about Mr Muirhead’s role and agrees that this needs to be challenged.”
NOTE TO EDITORS
The solicitors acting for SSE are Leigh Day & Co of 25 St John’s Lane, London and SSE’s barristers are from ‘Thirtynine Essex Street’ chambers, 39 Essex Street, London, led by senior counsel Paul Stinchcombe QC.
The formal legal document served today on the Secretary of State and Airports Commission is a Pre-Action Protocol Letter (‘PAPL’), which is a pre-requisite before an application for judicial review can be considered by the High Court.
We have so far been unable to establish the level of remuneration/fees paid to Mr Muirhead during the years ending 31 March 2012 and 31 March 2013 because this is not disclosed in the MAG financial accounts. There is in fact no legal obligation to disclose during these two years because the Companies Act only requires disclosure in respect of directors. Mr Muirhead ceased to be a director of MAG during the financial year ending 31 March 2011.
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has welcomed the announcement today [20 September] that Geoff Muirhead, the former chief executive of Manchester Airports Group (MAG) is stepping down from the Airports Commission.
The Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, is currently examining the need for additional UK airport capacity and is due to report with a shortlist of options in December.
Geoff Muirhead’s role on the Commission was called into question by SSE because of his links with MAG who could be beneficiaries of any decision to expand Stansted Airport which MAG now owns.
The campaign group first raised the issue of a potential conflict of interest with Mr Muirhead last November on the day his appointment to the Commission was announced. Subsequent correspondence with Sir Howard Davies and the Secretary of State for Transport, then led SSE last month to issue a formal notice of judicial review proceedings unless Mr Muirhead resigned.
SSE is however disappointed that it has taken so long for Sir Howard Davies and the Secretary of State to recognise that it was untenable for Mr Muirhead to remain in post.
Peter Sanders, Chairman of SSE, said: “By ignoring our concerns and allowing the matter to drag on, Sir Howard Davies and the Secretary of State have potentially compromised the work of the Commission already and created the possibility of considerable extra delay, which is in nobody’s interests.”
“Given that Mr Muirhead has been actively involved as a member of the Commission for almost a year we now need to know to what extent the work of the Commission may already have been tainted,” he continued. “It is only when we have answers to the questions sent to the Secretary of State and Commission by our legal advisers that we will be able to ascertain how much of the Commission’s work to date may need to be revisited.”
Mr Sanders concluded: “It is important to make clear that SSE’s purpose in pursuing this action has always been – and will continue to be – to ensure that the issues regarding potential airport expansion are examined fairly, impartially and independently, and that this is seen to be the case.”