Local residents have expressed their surprise at a last-minute move by George Best Belfast City Airport which will further delay the long-awaited public inquiry on the airport’s controversial proposed runway extension.
The body holding the inquiry, the Planning Appeals Commission, recently wrote to residents who objected to the plan inviting them to an initial meeting about the inquiry.
But the Commission has now announced that it will have to put the inquiry on hold because the airport says it wants to submit further relevant environmental information which the Department of the Environment must first give the public a chance to comment on.
“This latest eleventh-hour move by the airport is certainly a surprising one and will obviously delay the inquiry further,” commented Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of the Belfast City Airport Watch Steering Group.
“This follows a delay of several months last year when the Planning Appeals Commission said it wasn’t satisfied with the environmental information submitted by the airport.
“Supporters of the runway extension often try to blame residents for the delay in getting this inquiry off the ground – but clearly, had the airport submitted all the necessary information, accurately and fully, at the outset, the inquiry might have taken place a lot sooner.”
The umbrella residents’ group opposes the runway extension proposal because an extended runway would enable planes to carry larger loads of passengers and fuel, leading to heavier aircraft and greater levels of noise. The proposal would also enable the airport to greatly expand its operations.
The public inquiry was announced by former Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, in March last year.
But, in August of last year, the Planning Appeals Commission announced it was refusing to proceed with the inquiry until the Department of the Environment obtained more robust and complete noise-related environmental data from the airport.
Just before Christmas, the Department announced it had received new environmental information from the airport and gave the public an opportunity to comment on that data.
In its recent letter to residents, the Commission said the inquiry would be held later this year – but this latest move by the airport must now put that timetable in doubt.