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Belfast airport runway decision imminent

By Linda Stewart

Environment Minister Edwin Poots will decide within days whether to give the go-ahead to a runway extension at George Best Belfast City Airport.

That’s according to First Minister Peter Robinson, who dropped the hint at a recent DUP business breakfast.

South Antrim MP William McCrea, who attended the meeting, confirmed that the comments were made in response to a question and added his voice to calls for a public inquiry into the controversial planning application.

“His response to the issue was that he believed that the Environment Minister would be coming to a determination very soon and that could be within days,” he said. But the MLA cautioned that the decision may not be published immediately.

Mr McCrea also pressed for a public inquiry, insisting that a regional aviation strategy is needed before such a decision can be made.

“There are so many issues involved in this that we would need a public inquiry . Without a proper aviation strategy I believe that to take a decision for the Belfast City airport extension would be taking it piecemeal — we need a strategy for this region,” he said.

The decision by Mr Poots would come more than a year after the application was originally submitted to Planning Service and classed as an Article 31 application — of such commercial importance that it should be fast tracked by the Strategic Projects team.

Airport campaigners Belfast City Airport Watch have demanded to know why a damning Civil Aviation Authority report has not yet been released to public view even though it was received by the Planning Service in November.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph published details from the report, which uncovered “significant deficiencies” in the Environmental Statement accompanying the planning application.

The report advised against relying on the information in the Environmental Statement as it was incomplete — expressing particular concern over the danger that the existing Planning Agreement could be breached in future.

Last year the airport breached the two-million passenger cap agreed with planners in 2008 — this had already been increased from 1.5 million.

“In October, the airport’s chief executive Brian Ambrose wrote to the Environment Minister asking that the cap be removed entirely.

The airport responded to the report by saying: “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.”

PUP leader Dawn Purvis called on the Environment Minister to reject the application on the basis that the Executive has no regional aviation strategy.

“Given the lack of proper assessment, a public inquiry and any action from the airport to deal with the concerns of local residents I do not see how the expansion could be approved.”

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