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Belfast City Airport runway plan under threat, say bosses

By Victoria O'Hara

Airport chiefs have warned that an £8m development plan to extend the runway at George Best Belfast City airport could be ditched.

The comment was made by the airport’s chief executive Brian Ambrose after Environment Minister Edwin Poots announced a public inquiry into the controversial proposals.

If given the green light the runway would be lengthened by almost 600 metres.

But it is now feared that an expensive public inquiry could delay the plan by several years as well as costing the public millions of pounds.

The new runway proposal would allow planes with heavier fuel loads to use the airport and open up the possibility of flights to and from further afield destinations in Europe.

But the application, which was submitted 18 months ago, has faced fierce opposition from residents who live in the surrounding areas of the flight path. They claim noise pollution will rise if it gets the go-ahead.

However, airport chiefs said if the proposals faced further delays there was a real risk that the airport’s main shareholder — Eiser Global Infrastructure Fund — would “lose patience”.

Mr Poots said there was a need for the public inquiry after saying the application raises matters “that may not be resolved through the normal planning process”.

“I have listened carefully to all the arguments in this case and I have decided that, in the interests of everyone concerned, it needs further consideration because of the significant issues at stake,” he said.

Mr Ambrose said he hoped for a “timely decision”.

“There is no reason why we can’t have this available for the winter season 2011 if there is a timely decision,” he said.

The airport lodged its initial planning application in November 2008 and had expected a final decision in May last year.

Mr Ambrose said if there were more delays it would be |questioned “whether it is a wise investment”.

He said he had been reminded by the shareholder that “other parts of the world” were competing for the capital.

“Understandably our shareholder is completely frustrated that they’ve made the investment.

“No-one can question their commitment to creating an infrastructure for Belfast to be proud of. But you can only take so many delays and set-backs before they’ll begin to question whether it is a wise investment.

“Certainly our view, the local executive, is that we will face the public inquiry, we will deal with any issues coming our way. We are confident of a positive outcome.”

Mr Ambrose said the plans complied with international regulations on noise pollution but said the public “have every right” to object. He added, however: “Almost three million people this year will vote with their feet and decide it is good to have an airport in Belfast City.”

Belfast Telegraph


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