20th November 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Sumburgh runway dispute: Appeal court rules against SIC

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited has been given the go-ahead to take a multi-million pound claim against Shetland Islands Council to court.

The appeal court in Edinburgh has ruled against the SIC in a legal wrangle over the long-running dispute surrounding Sumburgh Airport’s runway extension.

The decision raises the unwelcome prospect of the council having to make a pay-out of more than £14 million should the airport authority ultimately prove successful in its legal challenge.

HIAL raised its action following a dispute over the runway extension, which became plagued by structural problems caused by the sea.

The airport firm contracted the council in 2005 to provide engineering works and services for the job.

But it later raised an action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, which a judge last year allowed to go to a hearing of evidence.

Shetland Islands Council appealed against Lady Scott’s ruling, stating that too much time had passed between the alleged failings and the claim being made.

But today Scotland’s senior judge, the Lord President, Lord Gill, sitting with Lord Menzies and Lord Drummond Young, rejected the challenge.

The court action raised in 2011 originally sought declarations that there had been a breach of contract and alleged that defects had arisen and not been remedied.

There was no conclusion for damages as the airport firm maintained that the extent of the alleged loss could not properly be assessed.

It later added a further amendment seeking payment of £14.2 million, plus interest, from the council.

The local authority maintained that the claim for payment came too late. But Lady Scott said the terms of the action gave fair notice of the claim to the council and she could see no basis for any prejudice or disadvantage to it.

Lord Gill said: “It is not disputed that if the claim can be said to have been made only when the amendment was allowed, the claim has prescribed.

“The short question therefore is whether the declaratory conclusions in this action constituted the making of a relevant claim,” he said.

The senior judge said: “On a fair reading, the summons left the defender [the council] in no doubt that a claim was being made, that it was a claim for payment and that precise quantification of it would follow in due course.”

The council said the case was now likely to go to a full hearing.

A non-attributed SIC statement read: “The appeal court in Edinburgh has ruled against Shetland Islands Council in a technical legal matter over the Sumburgh airport runway extension dispute with Highlands and Islands Airports Limited.

“The issue before the Court of Session was whether or not the airport authority was time-barred from raising a claim for payment.

“HIAL initially raised the court action against the council claiming, among other things, defects in the design. The decision on this preliminary matter means that the case is likely to proceed to a full hearing. The council will not comment further at this time.”

HIAL managing director, Inglis Lyon said: “HIAL welcomes the decision and will now consider how best to proceed.”

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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11 comments

  1. john irvine

    Oh dear, another SIC mess.

    Those in the know knew at the time of construction that the extension would be washed away by the power of the sea, but despite being told this the SIC ignored the advice of those with common sense.

    Millions down the drain again and that looks likely to continue with the insane involvement with Viking Energy.

    Reply
    • Gary Robinson

      Just to clarify following John Irvine’s comment above that Shetland Islands Council isn’t “involved” in the Viking Energy Project. The Council has no plans to invest in the project or to be actively involved in its construction. It will have to perform its statutory and regulatory duties only. Consequently I don’t think any comparison can be made on that basis.

      Reply
      • Michael Garriock

        Dress it up any way you like, but it can’t be denied that the SIC conceived VE and nurtured it before passing it over to the SCT, where it was equally well nurtured until 2013 by a false flag SIC, who were wearing SCT hats instead. Even now majority control of VE arguably still lies with the SIC, given that there is a seven SIC member trustee group, who can dictate, or at the very least veto who their fellow trustees are.

        Shades of Mareel rapidly come to mind, an idea initiated and set in motion by the SIC, then farmed off to an arms length trust, in that case the SAT, like a poison chalice. Prior to construction beginning, I don’t doubt we’d have been assured the SIC didn’t plan to invest any further in Mareel – not quite how it worked out in the end though, was it?

        As for the runway, the SIC had no need to become involved in the construction of it either, but they unwisely did. Maybe by the time HIAL are done with taking as much as they can get their hands on, a lesson will have been learned by the SIC to stick with what they’re employed to do, provide local services, and not dabble in random unrelated construction projects, but I doubt it. Learning lessons never happens in the Town Hall, only the carpets get higher as more is swept under them.

  2. Iain Robertson

    Some 4000 years ago the Egyptians sussed that building things that stick out into the sea should be pointed or rounded, the ancient Greeks and Romans followed suit. Whoever accepted the design of the original runway extension is to blame. A square end ? Boats tend to be pointed at the bows not square, there is a good reason for this. Of course the sea has destroyed the end of the runway, it has nowhere else to go. Confrontation is inevitable and the sea is more powerful, what happened to common sense?

    Reply
  3. john irvine

    Gary`s statement reminds me about the story of the dodgy 2nd hand car dealer.

    When questioned by the police after a horrific car collision he replied “yes officer I did sell that vehicle which was not roadworthy but the accident is not my fault as I was not driving”

    Reply
  4. Chris Johnston

    Illusory superiority is a cognitive bias in which a person or persons overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others. A more down-to-earth definition is a person or persons who consider themselves expert in a subject when in fact they do not know enough about the subject to understand what they don’t know.
    This definition certainly fits SIC to a tee in this matter. They had no business attempting to construct this work.

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      But then surely HIAL also had a responsibility to ensure they were employing someone who could actually do the job?

      Reply
      • Michael Garriock

        That’s a good part of the problem with the SIC, they believe they can do just about anything they want to do, and sell themselves exceedingly well on that basis to anyone who doesn’t know them all that well. In all likelihood they do have the expertise and experience that they COULD deliver what it says on the tin in the vast majority of cases, but they simply don’t possess the ability to create and join up all component parts to make it happen competently and seamlessly.

        Sure as hell, some link in the chain somewhere will make a goof, and down goes the whole house of cards every time. Too many cooks spoil the broth…..Too many Chiefs, not enough Indians…..Too many people running round like headless hens….etc.

      • Chris Johnston

        SIC is a governmental body and HIAL is a private limited company 100% owned by the Scottish government.
        Governmental bodies like to do business with other governmental bodies because (1) they are birds of a feather, (2) the relationship provides maximum cover for politicians and senior bureaucrats if results go sour, and (3) it can set a basis for future mutually beneficial quid pro quos.

      • Johan Adamson

        That makes this worse. We are going to pay for lawyers for two public bodies to fight with each other. There needs to be a less costly way for them to settle this.

      • Brian Smith

        Yes, give me a bank any day er

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