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Health claims questioned as airport runway row deepens

Published 09/12/2009

A damning new report has challenged George Best Belfast City Airport’s claims that extending its runway will not impact adversely on local people’s health.

The airport’s health impact assessment — a report on how people’s health will be affected by its plans to extend the runway by one-third — was branded “not worth the paper it’s written on” by PUP councillor Dr John Kyle.

It has not addressed the potential effects of noise on mental health and wellbeing or on blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, according to an independent report commissioned by Belfast Healthy Cities.

Opponents of the proposed runway extension called on Environment Minister Edwin Poots to reject the planning application after the criticisms were made. They came amid rumours that the Environment Minister is poised to make a decision on the controversial planning application. Belfast City Council, Sinn Fein, the UUP, PUP and Alliance parties have all called for a public inquiry into the issue.

The Green Party says it hopes the DUP is not planning to bury bad news over the Christmas recess period by approving the planning application to extend the runway by 590m, allowing the airport to open up new routes to Europe and the Mediterranean.

The report, commissioned by Belfast Healthy Cities with the support of Belfast City Council, warned that children may be more vulnerable to the effects of environmental noise on performance as they are more exposed to noise at a critical stage of learning and have a lower ability to understand environmental issues and stressors. There are five schools close to the airport’s flight path, but World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on community noise in playgrounds had not been applied, the report said.

Fiona McKinley, spokesperson for the campaign group Belfast City Airport Watch which opposes the runway extension, said: “The criticisms are enough to justify Edwin Poots rejecting the airport's demands for expansion.”

A spokesperson for the airport said: “Following a request from the Planning Service, the airport submitted a full Health Impact Assessment. The airport is fully compliant with strict Government regulations regarding safety and noise. We welcome the inclusion of the study commissioned by Belfast City Council and its submission to Planning Service as part of the due planning process.

“In relation to the study; residents’ sleep is protected by the airport’s strict operating hours. The airport is completely transparent in all its operations and dealings with the airport’s stakeholders.”

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