Calls for a public inquiry into proposed plans for a runway extension at George Best Belfast City airport have been heard.
Environment Minister Edwin Poots announced on Tuesday, March 16, that the matter needed “further consideration” and will ask the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) to hold a public inquiry into the proposals.
The local airport has proposed an extension to its runway at the north east end by 590m, while retracting 120m from the south west.
Previously the airport has said this could create 100 jobs and £120m in tourism revenue.
But the plans have met with strong opposition from local residents, who have said they fear a greater number of larger planes using the runway if the plans get the go-ahead — a claim always rejected by the airport.
To date 1,486 letters of objection, eight petitions containing 499 signatures and 2,241 letters of support have been received by the relevant authorities.
Mr Poots said: “The application raises matters that may not be resolved through the normal planning process and will remain at issue.
“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.
“I have instructed my officials to ask the Planning Appeals Commission to hold a public inquiry and to request that the inquiry is given a high priority.”
A spokesperson for Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW) — an umbrella group of residents from east and south Belfast and North Down and Ards — said the group was “delighted” by the move, which comes two weeks after a damning report from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Liz Fawcett added: “While we had hoped that Mr Poots might have rejected this ludicrous proposal outright, we’re very glad that it will now be subjected to robust scrutiny.
“An extended runway would mean an international airport right on Belfast’s doorstep.”
Brian Ambrose, chief executive of George Best Belfast City Airport, said he remained “confident” that the public inquiry would lead to a “positive outcome” for the local airport.
He added: “There is widespread support from business, tourism, the travelling public of Northern Ireland and the local community to extend the runway which would enable airlines to offer direct flights to European destinations from the heart of Belfast, providing consumer choice and furthering access to the region.
“I trust that this public inquiry will be concluded within a timely manner.”