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Residents furious at City Airport flights increase

By Linda McKee

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has been urged not to allow an extra 3,000 flights in and out of George Best Belfast City Airport without a full public consultation.

Residents last night outlined their fears that the latest move to increase flights from 45,000 to 48,000 a year is paving the way for a runway extension.

Belfast City AirportWatch said it had received a good hearing when it brought its concerns to Belfast City Council yesterday, but warned of its fears that a runway extension could be rushed through with limited consultation.

Spokeswoman Fiona McKinley said any consultation process should now involve residents of the Ravenhill and Woodstock areas as they are being affected by flight noise. This has been growing worse since Ryanair began introducing larger aircraft, she said.

The DoE says the latest draft Planning Agreement is the final outcome of a public consultation that began several years ago as part of an Examination in Public (EiP), highlighted using public advertisement, a press release, plus a letter to key interested parties.

But the residents say the latest agreement has changed from what was recommended in an Examination in Public two years ago and a fresh public consultation is needed.

"We believe that this is stealth planning at its worst. One of the first tasks for Sammy Wilson as Minister for the Environment should be to ensure that this draft Planning Agreement goes to full public consultation and to ensure that the proposed runway extension goes to a full public planning inquiry where environmental impact and health impact assessments are put in place," Ms McKinley said.

The consultation a few years ago did not consider proposals for a runway extension, Ms McKinley added.

"What wasn't considered was the massive increase in large jets, especially with Ryanair moving into the airport as their Northern Ireland hub," she said.

Ms McKinley said the airport had been allowed to increase the number of seats per year from 1.5m up to 2m.

"While all that has been happening, the size of planes has increased and now they are getting another 3,000 flights added in the draft Planning Agreement," she said.

"This Planning Agreement is paving the way for a runway extension which we are afraid is going to be rushed through with limited consultation as part of a Strategic Projects Scheme.

"There isn't proper engagement with communities — the first you find out that the airport has a new Boeing 737-800 is when you are being woken up at 6.32am on its departure."

The DoE says the increased limit on flights "does not represent a substantive change" and is a tighter restriction covering all flights instead of just scheduled flights.

But the campaigners insist the extra flights by private jets and charter aircraft account for no more than 1,400 flights a year at most — freeing the airport to add 1,600 flights above the current upper threshold.

The DoE says the airport has agreed to set up a Community Fund based on a charge for delayed flights, aimed at reducing late flights between 9.31pm and 11.59pm.

"This fund will be outside the scope of the PA. The level of payments will be finalised following the final consultation process with the councils and the forum."

Belfast Telegraph


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