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Lights sought for tiny airfield where planes were diverted

Grassy landing strip below Slemish to get upgrade, 'but we're not talking jumbo jets'


Emergency landings: Two flights have had to be redirected to Buckna due to poor visibility

Emergency landings: Two flights have had to be redirected to Buckna due to poor visibility

Emergency landings: Two flights have had to be redirected to Buckna due to poor visibility

Two flights have had to be redirected to a Co Antrim airfield beside a mountain due to poor visibility since it opened last summer.

A meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council's planning committee has heard the flights were sent to the isolated Slemish Airfield in the Buckna area, close to the famous mountain where St Patrick is reputed to have tended sheep.

On the council agenda was a planning application for the installation of lights at the runway at Buckna Road, outside Broughshane. The 750-metre private landing strip at Slemish Airfield was constructed in 2017 and is operational with 52 flights permitted annually. The first landing took place in July.

The proposed new LED lights, which are 26cms off the ground, can be activated by the pilot when five miles from the landing strip and would operate for 15 minutes.

The application was made by Ernie Graham and his wife Dr Karen Graham. They built the luxurious Slemish Retreat and Spa near the landing strip in the picturesque Braid Valley.

The proposal has resulted in 13 objections on potential impact on wildlife and concerns over noise.

Planning officers have said they are "confident these issues have been addressed".

Speaking remotely at the meeting, TUV leader Jim Allister said: "I think the treatment of objectors by the Planning Department in the council has been quite shameful."

He claimed that a request for a Zoom meeting in December with objectors was "ignored". He criticised what he described as "procedural unfairness" saying that "each party must have the right to be heard".

Mr Allister proceeded to describe the application as "creeping development".

He suggested that it is being sought in a bid to "facilitate night-time flights".

"This is an idyllic part of the Braid Valley. It is farmland. What are night-time flights going to do? Think of the impact on livestock.

"I urge the committee to refuse this brazen application."

DUP MLA Paul Frew told the meeting that he considered the proposal to be "industrialisation" of the Braid Valley.

He questioned why lighting had not been part of the original application.

"I would urge the committee to think of the flora and fauna, river basin, issues around milking cows and sheep with lambs," he said.

Larne Lough DUP councillor Paul Reid said that he had lived a mile-and-a-half from Belfast International Airport previously and "not one sheep ever ran when a plane came into land".

Carnlough Road resident Judy Irwin, who lives opposite the runway, highlighted what she described as a "massive shocking change in the local area".

She maintained that if "50 multi-coloured runway lights" are "essential for health and safety, they should have been included in the original application".

Carrickfergus Ulster Unionist councillor John McDermott pointed out that the lights are a safety feature and would not affect wildlife.

Braid DUP councillor William McCaughey stressed that the application has been made in the interest of safety.

"To date, two daytime flights have been redirected to this airstrip due to poor visibility and light," he stated.

"This airstrip is integrated into the landscape in such a way it is barely distinguishable from the ground without the landing perimeter being highlighted."

He went on to say that the landing strip lights will only be "visible for 15 minutes per flight".

"I do not see it breaking any regulations. I welcome the recommendation to grant approval of this application."

Engineer Ivan Scott, who has been involved with the scheme since the start, said: "It is for private purposes. The client has a dwelling adjacent to this site. The purpose of the lights is to ensure the perimeter of the airstrip is clearly marked for the pilot's approach. It is a grass airstrip."

He stressed that the lights would be at ground level and "not lamp posts".

Proposing approval of the application, former RAF Wing Commander and Alliance councillor Noel Williams said: "We are not talking jumbo jets going into Belfast International type lighting."

Nine councillors voted in favour of the application with one against. The council's solicitor stated that the correct procedure for dealing with objections had been applied.

Belfast Telegraph