Ken Knott, chief executive of Ask Real Estate, has instructed lawyers to explore a challenge to Manchester Airports Group over its procurement process to find a development partner for the £650m Airport City.
The crux of the legal row is understood to be alleged talks between MAG and the Chinese funding partner introduced by Ask as its joint bidding partner in the contest which took place without Ask. Ask has an exclusivity agreement with the Chinese group.
Ask Real Estate issued a statement on Monday night: "Ask Real Estate Ltd notes Manchester Airport PLC's statement in the local media that 'Ask Real Estate Ltd is not involved in the joint venture selection process for Airport City.'
"Ask expresses its profound shock and disappointment that the statement contradicts a letter received by Ask and its consortium partner Beijing Construction & Engineering Group from MAP's consultants CBRE of 9 July stating that the bids for Airport City 'do not present the best solution for MAP' and states: 'MAP regrets to inform you that the procurement process for a partner for Airport City is terminated.'
Ask's statement continued: "The MAP statement to the media this week describes a process which is ongoing and promises an imminent decision after continuing discussions.
"Ask Real Estate Ltd expresses concern that a process which has been terminated is apparently being continued according to the MAP media statement.
"Ask confirms recent reports in the media that it has an exclusivity arrangement with the Beijing Construction & Engineering Group (BCEG), which is supported by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the China state bank.
"Ask confirms that in light of this announcement, and the huge volume of work undertaken by Ask in leading the consortium's proposals and driving the Chinese investment proposition, it is seeking legal advice on the options available to the company."
A MAG Property spokesperson declined to confirm if talks had taken place with the Chinese party without Ask's knowledge. MAG Property issued a short statement later on Monday night which read: "Ask and a number of other parties have not been successful in getting through to the final round of negotiations during a thorough selection process that has been conducted since the end of 2012. While we cannot comment on those companies in the final round until negotiations have been completed, we expect to announce the successful consortium by the start of the autumn."
Geoff Muirhead, who retired as Manchester Airports Group chief executive in 2010, is non-executive chairman of Ask.