Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Economy grounded by planning delays

Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair, is a man used to getting his own way.

As the boss of one of Europe's largest airlines he is not afraid of confrontation or of using his muscle to put pressure on opponents, usually airport executives or politicians. And when he doesn't get what he wants, someone will have to pay.

Yesterday he demonstrated his style to the full by announcing that the airline is pulling out of Belfast because of delays on a decision whether or not to extend the runway at George Best City Airport.

He left firing a broadside at the politicians, blaming them for the delays, and bandying about figures of how the economy would be affected by his decision. Up to 1,000 jobs in support services could go, he claimed, and up to one million tourists could be lost to the province. The figures are debatable but, as with all things relating to Mr O'Leary, behind all the hyperbole and rancour lies an important kernel of truth.

He is right to be annoyed that a date has not yet been set for the public inquiry into the runway extension, three years after the idea was first mooted. A longer runway is vital to allow Ryanair to fly to European destinations from the airport. Environment Minister Edwin Poots showed by granting planning permission for a controversial incinerator at Glenavy that he is, sometimes, prepared to take the hard planning decision. But the runway extension, like the John Lewis development at Sprucefield, has been bedevilled by delay.

There is a danger that Northern Ireland could give entrepreneurs the impression that it is closed for business. The Executive needs to get a streamlined planning system in operation to deal with contentious developments. There are no guarantees that the runway extension will ever be granted, but it would be nice to know the decision.

As an island on the periphery of Europe we need the best possible air and sea links that we can get for both commerce and leisure.

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