George Best Belfast City Airport has claimed it is being “handcuffed” by planning controls that are preventing it from growing.
If the two million ‘seats for sale’ cap was removed, it could create up to 300 new jobs and double passenger numbers, airport chief executive Brian Ambrose told Stormont’s environment committee.
Plans to add new business routes to Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt are being put at risk because of the cap, which limits the number of passengers flying into the airport to two million a year and the number of passengers flying out also to two million a year, he said.
Mr Ambrose said “only lawyers and consultants” are benefiting from a planning dispute that has gone on for nearly 10 years. However, planning officials admitted the seats for sale cap is a “blunt instrument” but said it could have been removed if the airport had agreed to restrictions on the overall noise levels on flightpaths.
These restrictions were recommended by an Examination in Public in 2007 but were never adopted because the airport would not accept them, they said.
In the absence of effective noise control measures, a seats for sale restriction was included in the 2008 planning agreement drawn up between the Planning Service and the airport, principal planning officer Scott Symington said.
“The seats for sale control cannot be removed until we agree this noise control,” he said.
Mr Symington said the current process has continued for 10 months, not 10 years.
The request to remove the seats for sale limit was due to go to public inquiry but this had to be postponed as more information on noise levels and habitats is needed from the airport.
“What they mean is that it has taken 10 years to get what the airport wants,” Mr Symington said.
Meanwhile Mary McIntyre, director of strategic planning division, said the 2008 planning agreement was one that was “entered into willingly by both parties”.
Mr Ambrose said it seemed unlikely the public inquiry will go ahead before the autumn because the airport is waiting for guidance from Planning Service on this information and cannot submit it until May — however, the planners insisted no guidance is needed.
“We need to have the handcuffs taken off us to do deals with airlines,” he said.