20th December 2004

High drama in airports High Court case

The Judicial Review challenge to the Government’s airport’s policy enters its second week today (Monday 20 December) with Mr Justice Sullivan hearing arguments presented by counsel representing Essex County Council, Stop Stansted Expansion and others.

As the first time in history that the High Court has been prepared to allow a challenge against a Government White Paper, the case always had the ingredients for a ‘Battle Royale’ – and so it is turning out to be.

Throughout last week, barristers for the claimants put the Government legal team under intense pressure on a range of issues with the question of Stansted commercial viability dominating the exchanges toward the end of the week.

The Government was forced to provide key financial documents relating to the viability of a second Stansted runway and, as more information was revealed, the Government’s position began to look increasingly shaky. These previously highly confidential internal documents showed that the Government had not been entirely candid in its earlier submission to the Court in its attempts to hide the seriousness of the Treasury’s doubts about a second Stansted runway. However, there were still gaps in the evidence trail which suggested that Ministers had not been made aware of Treasury concerns – gaps which needed to be filled.

In a stunning rebuke to the Government, Justice Sullivan told Government QC Richard Drabble: “I share the concern that it is becoming difficult to accept the Government’s evidence at face value, some of which clearly does not meet the standard of candour expected of a Government Department in litigation.” The Judge went on to say that he also was not now prepared to take any of the Government’s evidence on trust “for reasons that should be obvious.”

Barrister Tom Hill on behalf of the Essex County Council group of claimants described the Government’s claim that a second Stansted runway could be financially viable without cross-subsidy as a “triumph of hope over experience which bordered on recklessness,” while David Smith, on behalf of the SSE and communities claim described the Stansted second runway proposal as “irrational and unsound.”

The case is likely to continue until the middle of the week. A decision is not expected before February.

NOTES

The challenge to the Air Transport White Paper has been mounted by a consortium consisting of Stop Stansted Expansion, the Heathrow campaign group HACAN, the Luton campaign group LADACAN and the London Boroughs of Hillingdon and Wandsworth. It is being heard in parallel with a second claim from a group comprising Essex and Hertfordshire County Councils and Uttlesford, East Herts and North Herts District Councils. A separate but related third claim from property developer Persimmon is due to be heard from 20 January.

FURTHER INFORMATION/COMMENT:

SSE representatives are attending the High Court throughout the proceedings. For further information, comment or updates, please contact Carol Barbone, Campaign Director, SSE: 0777 552 3091.

Campaigning against proposals to expand Stansted Airport