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Kent airport development triggers legal dogfight

A LEGAL dogfight between property developer Wiggins and consultant Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick has broken out over plans to turn a former Battle of Britain airfield in Kent into a commercial airport.

Scott Wilson is suing Kent International Airport (KIA), a subsidiary of Wiggins, for £180,000 in fees for work on the former RAF Manston air base in Thanet, Kent.

KIA is counter claiming for damages and claiming that a number of disputes with Scott Wilson have delayed the project, costing it loss of profit and management time. Its claim is understood to be £1M.

RAF Manston operated as a military airfield until August 1999 when it was sold to Wiggins by the Ministry of Defence.

Wiggins earlier bought KIA which operated civilian flights from a section of the base. It plans to develop it as a commercial airport.

KIA engaged Scott Wilson after it emerged that RAF runway surface friction standards did not fulfil Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requirements.

The consultant devised a cost efficient resurfacing solution for the runways and taxiways, and was asked by KIA to discuss other work.

As a result, in September 1999, Scott Wilson was engaged to work on an airfield masterplan and was later being engaged to provide planning advice and develop plans for aircraft hangars and rail access.

KIA paid Scott Wilson's fees to December 1999. NCE understands these were worth around £140,000. However, 11 invoices to KIA dating from February to July 2000 and totalling £180,891.95 remain unpaid.

According to Scott Wilson's claim, Wiggins wrote to the consultant in May 2000 asking it to wait for payment and identifying no dispute.

It then paid £50,000 on account, before Scott Wilson eventually began legal action to recover the money in August 2000.

Defending the claim, KIA said it does not owe any money and also launched its own counter claim.

It alleges that Scott Wilson failed 'to take into account that the airport stood above a major aquifer', and that this could have left KIA open to claims from contractors for extra work to prevent contamination of the aquifer.

Contamination would have involved the Environment Agency which could have banned construction work or even closed the airport, KIA claims.

Scott Wilson is also accused of failing to produce a 'meaningful' masterplan.

'Without engaging and consulting with a local planning authority any masterplan prepared by Scott Wilson was of limited use as KIA would not know if any of the proposals would find favour with the Local Planning Authority, ' KIA alleges.

Scott Wilson says that all bidders were informed of the aquifer during discussions with tenderers for the redevelopment work and that it discussed the masterplan with the CAA and local authorities.

'Detailed consultation with the planning authority would not have been appropriate for the purposes of preparing a masterplan and was not within the scope of the agreed duties, ' Scott Wilson's defence adds.

KIA is also disputing expenses for sustenance and telephone calls, and demands 'strict proof' from Scott Wilson that other expenses 'were incurred wholly within the furtherance of its retainer'.

It also alleges that from February 2000 Scott Wilson sought to maximise its fees 'which would not necessarily bear any relation to the amount of work required to be done by SWK', and that Scott Wilson 'no longer sought to represent the best interest of KIA, but of itself'.

It says an internal e-mail from Scott Wilson director David Farthing to colleague John Gibbon on 4 February 2000, stating that its work for KIA 'MUST (sic) make a profit', illustrates this, and it demands 'strict proof' of Scott Wilson's fees and time spent on the project.

Scott Wilson denies this, saying that fees were agreed and reasonable, and that expenses were legitimate. 'Naturally, SWK does aim to make a profit from the provision of its services, ' Scott Wilson's response adds.

A High Court hearing on the dispute is expected in the spring.

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