13th October 2013

SSE calls time on Airports Commission and Department for Transport

High Court challenge to be launched tomorrow

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has called time on the Airports Commission and the Secretary of State for Transport and will tomorrow [14 October 2013] 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.

Mr Muirhead was the former chief executive of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which now owns Stansted Airport. He retired as MAG’s chief executive in October 2010 after 22 years with the Group but was then immediately appointed as an ‘ambassador’ to MAG, for which he received £164,000 per annum on top of his £95,000 pension. There was no declaration of interest or public disclosure of the fact that Mr Muirhead was still being paid to represent the interests of MAG when he was appointed to the Airports Commission last year, nor of the fact that he continued to represent MAG as a paid ambassador until earlier this year.

SSE economics adviser Brian Ross commented: “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. He was therefore in a powerful position to shape the decisions and judgements of the Commission to favour the interests of MAG and that is precisely what we fear he may have done. That is why it is not enough simply 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.”

Brian Ross concluded: “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.”


  • MAG has asked the Airports Commission to consider Stansted as the location for 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.
  • 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