Airport campaigners have warmly welcomed the withdrawal by the Environment Minister of a controversial draft planning policy which was branded a ‘charter for developers’, and which could have paved the way for George Best Belfast City Airport to be permitted its long-sought runway extension.
The residents’ umbrella group, Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW), had been concerned that the draft planning guidance on ‘economic considerations’ would have shifted the goal posts in favour of the airport, making it much more likely that the controversial scheme would have obtained approval.
The controversial guidance document in question – Draft Planning Policy Statement 24: Economic Considerations – stated that the economic implications of a proposed development could, where significant, be the determining factor in approving a planning application.
But the Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, has now announced that he will not be introducing the draft policy, which was proposed by his predecessor, Edwin Poots.
“We’re really delighted with the Minister’s decision,” said Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of BCAW’s Steering Group. “We’re so glad that the Minister listened to the representations made by many residents’ and environmental groups about this document which was, effectively, a charter for developers.
“Had this document come into force, it would have completely shifted the goal posts with regard to the runway extension and many other controversial development proposals with potential negative environmental impacts.
“We’re very relieved that this is not going to happen and that this Environment Minister has demonstrated his commitment to putting the environment first.”
BCAW estimates that more than 40,000 residents in east and south Belfast, and north Down are affected by aircraft noise linked to the City Airport .
The umbrella body, which represents 21 residents’ and community groups, opposes City Airport’s runway extension proposal because it would permit larger, heavier and noisier planes to fly from the airport, and would enable the airport to go further in transforming itself into an international airport.
The runway extension plan is to be the subject of a public inquiry and BCAW understood that the inquiry would have been required to take into account the new planning guidance if it had come into force before the inquiry produced its report.
Two years ago, Belfast City Airport Watch carried out its own survey of residents in areas overflown by planes from the City Airport.
The findings from this survey demonstrated the extent to which aircraft noise is a very real problem for many residents:
- More than three-quarters (78%) of the 412 individuals surveyed said that aircraft noise affected their sleep
- Three-quarters (75%) of respondents said they often had to stop talking when a plane flew over because they couldn’t be heard
- Of the 157 respondents with children, nearly half (46%) said their children weren’t getting enough sleep because of aircraft noise.
- More than a third (34%) of those with children said their children found aircraft noise frightening.