Belfast Telegraph

Runway inquiry fails to get off the ground

by Chris McCann

Residents have welcomed the Planning Appeals Commission’s decision to halt a public inquiry into the proposed runway extension at George Best Belfast City Airport.

The Commission has refused to go any further with the inquiry until the Department of the Environment obtains more robust and complete noise-related environmental data from the airport.

The department’s Planning Service had suggested the airport could submit further information once the inquiry hearings were underway, but the Commission has refused to accept this proposal as it could give rise to undue delay as in the Sprucefield public inquiry.

Dr Liz Fawcett, chair of the Belfast City Airport Watch Steering Group, said: “We are really glad that the Commission has stood its ground against a shameful proposal by the Planning Service which would have given a really unfair advantage to the airport.

“Had the airport been allowed to submit further information at the last minute, residents and other objectors would have had scant time to scrutinise it properly and we would have been at a real disadvantage.

“We’re also glad that the Commission has seen the patent flaws in the noise data submitted to date by the airport.”

The Department of the Environment and the Planning Service initially resisted requests to publish a report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on the proposed runway extension, completed in November 2009, on the basis that it was an ‘internal’ document. Its contents eventually came to light in March this year.

Belfast City Airport Watch opposes the runway extension proposal saying it would lead to larger loads of passengers and fuel, heavier aircraft and greater levels of noise. The CAA report states that, in terms of the proposed runway length alone, it would be possible to operate larger aircraft from an extended runway.

In its letter to the Planning Service informing it of its decision to delay the inquiry, the Commission also refers to the need for fuller information on comments received from objectors and supporters to the airport’s application.

A spokesperson for George Best Belfast City Airport said: “Whilst we are aware of the recent correspondence between the Planning Appeals Commission and the Planning Service we cannot comment further until we receive direct notification regarding the next steps in the process.

“As has always been the case we wish to see the Public Inquiry handled in a timely fashion.”

East Belfast MP Naomi Long MP said: “The PAC is right to expect full disclosure at the outset and I would urge the airport to provide the required information. The airport’s original objection was the delay, and yet by not providing this information upfront they are at risk of causing further delay unnecessarily.”

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