18th November 2013

High Court to hear SSE’s legal challenge

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) will go to the Royal Courts of Justice this Friday (22 November 2013 at 10.00am) to present its case that a key element of the work carried out by the Airports Commission has been tainted by apparent bias and needs to be done afresh.

SSE’s legal challenge stems from the involvement of Geoff Muirhead, former chief executive of the Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Stansted Airport. Mr Muirhead was one of five commissioners appointed to the Airports Commission last year. He had retired as MAG’s chief executive in October 2010 after 22 years with the Group but he was then immediately appointed as a highly paid ambassador to MAG, a role he continued to fulfil even after he was appointed to the Airports Commission.

Mr Muirhead resigned from the Commission on 20 September 2013, “by mutual consent” with the Secretary of State for Transport, shortly after SSE begun its legal challenge.

Mr Muirhead was directly involved in determining the Commission’s ‘sift criteria’. These are, in effect, the selection criteria for deciding the most suitable airport expansion options and SSE believes that these are clearly skewed to favour expansion at Stansted Airport.

SSE will be asking the High Court to order the Commission to re-determine the ‘sift criteria’ for assessing airport expansion options and to delay the publication of any short-list of options – due to be published next month – until the sift criteria have been re-determined.

SSE Chairman Peter Sanders said: “We first expressed our concern about Mr Muirhead’s role on the Commission on 4 February 2013, and subsequently sent a further five letters to the Chairman of the Commission and the Secretary of State re-iterating our concerns. All of this was completely ignored until we began our legal challenge but by that time Mr Muirhead’s involvement had tainted the work of the Commission. That is why it is not enough just to remove Mr Muirhead from the Commission at this advanced stage and that is why we will be asking the High Court to order the Commission to re-visit certain key decisions made by the Commission during the time that Mr Muirhead was involved.”

Mr Sanders concluded: “This is a fight for fairness and with proposals before the Airports Commission to make Stansted the world’s biggest airport, it is a fight that we cannot shirk.”


  • MAG has asked the Airports Commission to endorse the development of a second runway at Stansted and also to consider the option of Stansted becoming the UK’s future hub airport, to replace Heathrow and grow to handle up to 160 million passengers per annum (mppa). By way of comparison, Stansted handled 17.5 mppa last year, Heathrow 70 mppa, and the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta, USA, 95 mppa.
  • Mr Muirhead was paid £82,000 in his first six months as MAG’s ‘ambassador’ and subsequently received consultancy fees of £150,000 per annum, in addition to his £95,000 annual pension.
  • Acting for SSE in this matter are barristers Paul Stinchcombe QC and Ned Helme of Thirty-Nine Essex Street Chambers and solicitors Richard Stein and Ugo Hayter of Leigh Day LLP.

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits