Belfast Telegraph

Damning report sparks call to shelve runway extension

By Linda Stewart

A damning report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on information supplied by George Best Belfast City Airport has prompted calls for the airport to withdraw its planning application for a runway extension.

The environmental statement supporting the application to extend the runway by one-third has been slammed by a CAA report as having “significant deficiencies”.

Calling for a public inquiry into the planned runway extension, PUP leader Dawn Purvis said the report ran a “coach and horses” through the airport’s environmental statement and questioned whether the airport can be trusted to control its own noise levels.

The noise report submitted to Planning Service by the CAA said that the evidence in the environmental statement was incomplete and advised caution in relying on it.

It expressed particular concerns over the potential for the existing planning agreement to be breached, particularly the annual limit on seats for sale.

The report questioned the way the airport had worked out how large an area surrounding the site is affected by high noise levels.

Last year the airport breached the two million passenger cap agreed with planners in 2008. This agreement had increased the cap from 1.5 million.

In October the airport’s chief executive Brian Ambrose wrote to Environment Minister Edwin Poots asking for the cap to be removed entirely.

The airport said it had understood that the seats for sale cap would be lifted if it installed a noise monitoring system and secondary radar.

George Best Belfast City Airport hopes to be able to offer more services to the Continent if it is permitted to extend the runway.

But residents in east Belfast and north Down have warned that they face an “irreversible nightmare” if the runway extension gets the green light.

George Best Belfast City Airport Watch said it would enable airlines to fly aircraft with heavier fuel loads, so jets would be noisier and fly lower.

The CAA report concluded: “Particular concerns include potential breaches of the extant Planning Agreement in terms of seats for sale and noise exposure contour area.”

The report also said the airport appeared to be implicitly seeking to vary the conditions of the current planning agreement.

PUP leader Dawn Purvis said: “I think the airport should withdraw its planning application. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they’ve tried to deceive the Planning Service but what's patently obvious is that Planning Service has done the right thing in commissioning an independent report.

“This has the potential to impact on many people's lives.”

An airport spokesperson said: “This report is one of many documents from a range of stakeholders that will be evaluated by Planning Service and the minister as part of due planning process. The airport is still awaiting a decision on its application to extend its runway which will benefit the local community and wider economy.”

Airport saga that just drags on and on

The saga of the runway extension at Belfast City Airport has dragged on for far longer than then Environment Minister Sammy Wilson might have |expected.

The airport is seeking planning permission for an extension, hoping to allow aircraft to take off with full fuel tanks and therefore be capable of serving more distant destinations on the Continent.

When the planning application was submitted in November 2008, it was designated an Article 31 application, deemed to be of such commercial significance that it could not be allowed to become bogged down and therefore destined to be fast tracked by the Planning Service’s Strategic Projects Team.

Belfast commercial leaders warned that every potential transport route needs to be explored if the city is to flourish and attract more visitors. But in contrast, Flybe which operates 14 flights from George Best Belfast City Airport, has warned that the extension could threaten the business market which is the lifeblood of the airport.

Concerns have also been raised that Northern Ireland cannot support two main airports serving international destinations.

An incident in October 2008 dealt a blow to the plans after residents blamed an aircraft for sucking around 30 tiles off the roof of an east Belfast house.

The UUP, Sinn Fein, Alliance, PUP and the Green Party have all called for a public inquiry, as have Belfast City Council. The Assembly also recommended a public inquiry following a |debate last year.

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