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'Green light' for Belfast City Airport runway plans

Controversial plans to extend the runway at Belfast City Airport are about to be given the green light, an SDLP MP has claimed.

South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell said he believed the airport's planning application was set to be passed with the support of Environment Minister Edwin Poots.

And while planning officials said a final decision had yet to be made, Dr McDonnell predicted the controversial plan to extend the runway would go ahead without a public inquiry.

The owners of the George Best Belfast City Airport want to extend the runway by 590 metres to allow planes to fly further, opening-up new destinations in Europe and the Mediterranean.

"My information is that the minister will make a public announcement by the end of the month in relation to the Airport runway," said Dr McDonnell.

"His decision will fly directly in the face of all logical arguments against such a move put forward by a wide cross-section of the general public and by politicians from all sides of the community, including his party leader, Peter Robinson.

"The minister and his department will try and sell this scheme by stressing that it will 'only be an additional 500 metres of tarmac'."

The SDLP Economic Affairs spokesman said that if the plans were implemented they would present "intolerable pressures in terms of pollution and noise nuisance".

He added: "There are also major fears among the public that the additional flights will increase the potential for structural damage to homes and buildings across a wide area of Belfast.

"Surely Mr Poots can't be blind to the adverse environmental issues that will be generated if he goes ahead with this ill-conceived plan."

The Department of Environment today said: "The planning application for the extension to the runway at George Best Belfast City Airport is under consideration.

"Planning officials are processing it as quickly as it is possible to do so and it is hoped to be in a position to make a decision on the procedural route to be taken to progress the application shortly."

Residents groups in south Belfast have raised concerns over the impact of extending the runway.

Dr McDonnell said: "There needs to absolute transparency surrounding any decision on the implications of the runway extension.

"The necessary public confidence in the political process can only be achieved if that decision, one way or the other, is made after a full public inquiry.

"Commercial threats must not be allowed to play any role in what has to be a sound commercial and environmental examination of all the relevant facts."

In a further development Dr McDonnell claimed the Department had also yet to conclude an official Aviation Strategy for Northern Ireland.

"Last week I wrote to the Minister seeking clarification from him regarding the timescale for implementing such a strategy," he said.

"It is incredible that in terms of the economic blueprint for Northern Ireland we are still waiting for such a key business and tourism plan.

"Instead we continue to have to suffer from a disjointed approach to the regulation and monitoring of flights over Belfast."

He claimed, however, that a decision to back the runway extension could not have any credibility until a regional Aviation Strategy was developed and agreed.

"It is only then that we will be able to make rational and fully informed decisions on any extensions or changes to our airports network," said Dr McDonnell.

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