Residents stunned as officials tell Environment Committee they haven’t enforced noise regulations

The residents’ group, Belfast City Airport Watch, has expressed amazement at the failure of the Planning Service to enforce noise regulations at George Best Belfast City Airport.

Their comments came after one of the most senior officials in the DOE’s Planning Service this morning admitted to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Environment Committee that the agency was not enforcing two key conditions of the planning agreement between the airport and the DOE, an agreement which is meant to protect local residents from undue aircraft noise pollution. Tom Clarke, Director of Strategic Planning at the agency, conceded that the Planning Service:

  • Was taking no action despite knowing that the airport has breached a limit of 2,000,000 on the number of seats for offered for sale which effectively restricts the number of larger, noisier aircraft which can be operated from the airport [ he admitted this limit was breached in the twelve months to end of July 2010]
  • Was taking no action on the fact that hundreds of flights have landed at and departed from the airport after the ‘curfew’ time of 9.30pm in the last 19 months alone [637 flights from January 2009 to July 2010 inclusive, according to Planning Service figs supplied to BCAW] – despite the fact late flights are only supposed to happen in “exceptional circumstances”
  • Did not know what precise impact the Environment Minister’s proposed removal of the seats for sale limit might have on the mix and types of aircraft operating at the airport

“We are stunned by the complacency shown by the Planning Service officials who briefed the Committee this morning,” said Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of the residents’ group, Belfast City Airport Watch.

“The planning agreement is the main protection residents have against undue levels of noise pollution and the Planning Service is just walking away from its responsibilities to enforce it.

“Given that tens of thousands of residents in east and south Belfast, and north Down, are affected by aircraft noise linked to the City Airport, this is an act of gross negligence.

“The fact that the Environment Minister is actually proposing to weaken the planning agreement when it isn’t even being implemented properly really is even more disturbing.

“The Minister has not even held a properly advertised public consultation on his proposal to remove the seats for sale limit – if this is what passes for democracy at the Department of the Environment, it really is a shambles.”

Dr Fawcett added that residents are not opposed per se to the existence of the City Airport,” she said.

“We appreciate that the City Airport brings economic benefits, but there has to be a balance between the commercial interests of the airport, and the health and quality of life of residents.

“At the moment, the situation is tipped far too far towards the interests of the airport.”