Environment Correspondent Sammy Wilson has warned campaigners opposing a runway extension at George Best Belfast City Airport not to read too much into his decision not to take part in a crucial Belfast City Council vote.
The council voted to call for a public inquiry into the plan to extend the runway by a third, but the Environment Minister, a council member, was not in attendance. The council was voting on recommendations made by two of its committees.
It also agreed to investigate the possibility of engaging expert advice on the impact of the development on local communities and called on the Health and Environment Ministers to seek a Health Impact Assessment of the proposals.
Fiona McKinley of Belfast City Airport Watch said residents now believe Mr Wilson backs their demand.
“You can’t play fancy footwork with this,” she said.
“Cllr Wilson arrived a few minutes after the Committees’ recommendations were passed, but that doesn’t matter — what matters is that he didn’t go out of his way to block the proposal from two influential committees, one of them his own Town Planning Committee.
“This puts Sammy in a bit of a quandary. In effect, he has recognised and endorsed the need for a public inquiry — the need for proper public scrutiny of all the issues. So, if he is being consistent, he must do the same when he changes hats and looks at the issue as Planning Minister.
“Cllr Wilson has already made his mind up — at least he did when it came before his Council because he didn’t vote against it.
“All of which means that all the East Belfast representative has to do is sanction the public inquiry, sign the authorisation and give us all some hope that local politicians really do listen to the people.”
However, Mr Wilson warned that campaigners shouldn’t read anything into his decision not to attend.
“I have taken no view on it and that is why I didn't attend,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“This planning application will eventually come to me and I will be the final adjudicator.
“I will not make any comment which shows what my view will be until after I receive the final report. Until then I will keep out of it.” shouldn't read anything into what happened at the meeting."