Belfast Telegraph

Frustration mounting over bogged-down runway probe

Residents living close to George Best Belfast City Airport have called on Environment Minister Edwin Poots to “come clean” about the impact a runway extension will have on them.

The public inquiry into the planned runway extension is bogged down in a row between planners and the Planning Appeals Commission.

The PAC has refused to set a date for the public inquiry into the controversial development, citing concerns about the Environmental Statement (ES) that accompanied the airport’s application to extend the runway.

Planners now admit the ES contains “deficiencies” but want to press ahead with an inquiry.

The commission says it isn’t convinced all necessary factual information has been provided about the noise implications of the proposed development.

It highlights a damning report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which advised caution in relying on the ES.

That report by a CAA consultant warned of deficiencies. These included “confusion” over noise exposure contours and the use of winter and summer air traffic

When minister Poots announced his decision recently to hold a public inquiry into the plan, he warned that it must not become a “dragged-out process” that wastes public money.

The PAC is reluctant to set a

date for the start of the inquiry, warning that if its questions aren’t answered now, it could mean more serious delays later.

The increasingly fractious exchange was revealed in letters between Planning Service and the PAC in the planning file.

In a recent letter to the PAC, TJ Clarke, director of Strategic Planning at Planning Service, said the airport did not accept that the comments of the CAA consultant called the adequacy of the ES into question and Planning Service did not consider that any more environmental information is needed at this time.

But PAC acting chief administrative officer Lorraine Braniff wrote back, warning that that decision is not up to the applicant.

Planning Service now says it accepts there are deficiencies in the ES, but it is satisfied that the full information about the environmental impacts of the runway will become available at the inquiry itself.

But Dr Liz Fawcett, chair of the Belfast City Airport Watch Steering Group, said she was very surprised that Planning Service appeared to be acceding to the views of the airport.

“The Environment Minister could have saved a great deal of public money by simply rejecting the misguided runway extension proposal out of hand in the light of that damning report.”

Last night, the PAC said it did not wish to comment.

An airport spokesman said: “We hope the proceedings will be dealt with in a timely fashion.”

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