Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Runway extension row still up in the air

At times, ABN AMRO must surely wonder if the acquisition last September of George Best Belfast City Airport was such a smart move after all.

As will be recalled, ABN AMRO’s Infrastructure Capital Management fund paid top dollar when it completed a £132.5m deal for the airport in September.

The company, a subsidiary of troubled Royal Bank of Scotland, now finds that its new acquisition is embroiled in a furious row over its controversial plan to extend the runway.

The flames were fanned last week when the DoE’s Planning Service published the results of its consultation exercise.

Some 1,415 letters of objection were received, along with seven petitions containing 280 signatures.

And the votes in favour? Er, just 12 letters of support.

Although the airport dressed things up a bit by pointing out that the objections represented a mere 0.4% of the population of the greater Belfast area, there was no indication as to what percentage 12 people would be. But fans of the runway extension need not give up hope yet. The City Airport is running its own opinion poll, it seems.

Passengers are being invited to drop their business cards in a box in the arrivals hall, being assured that each card will be added to the list in favour.

And if you’re against the idea? Sorry, chum, no box. You’ll just have to send your business card to the Planning Service.

Quite how scientific this particular poll will turn out to be remains to be seen, but no doubt the results will be trumpeted in due course.

Indeed, the City Airport website is still highlighting a survey it commissioned last November from Millward Brown Ulster which showed that 81% of businesses supported the extension.

Very impressive, even though the item on the website neglects to say that the sample involved just 100 businesses.

Who is to say what percentage that is of businesses in Belfast?

At least, though, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary appears to have been silenced since his notorious “mewling and puking” reference to the residents of North Down.

But as the calls for a public inquiry intensify, the debate, rather like those early morning aircraft, shows no sign of quietening down.

All we are waiting for now is for the Environment Minister, Sammy Wilson, to declare his hand in his usual tactful way.

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