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Controversial planning document could pave way for runway extension

Belfast City Airport Watch brands new planning policy a ‘charter for developers’

Local residents have expressed their alarm at a draft planning policy document which could pave 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), says new draft planning guidance on ‘economic considerations’ would shift the goal posts in favour of the airport, making it much more likely that the controversial scheme would get approval.

The guidance document in question – Draft Planning Policy Statement 24: Economic Considerations – states that the economic implications of a proposed development can, where significant, be the determining factor in approving a planning application.

“This draft planning guidance, if it comes into force, would completely shift the goal posts with regard to the runway extension and many other controversial development proposals with potential negative environmental impacts,” said Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of BCAW’s Steering Group.

“It’s quite wrong for the Department of the Environment, which is meant to protect our environment, to be proposing that environmental concerns should be brushed aside in this way.

“This is nothing more than a charter for developers. Planning applications are already difficult enough for ordinary people to challenge – this policy guidance, with its emphasis on claimed economic benefits, would make the cost of mounting a challenge prohibitive in many instances.

“We are urging people who share our concerns to make their views known to the Planning Service before it’s too late.”

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 19 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 later this year, and residents understand the inquiry would be required to take into account the new planning guidance if it is in force before the inquiry produces its report.

Moreover, the new Environment Minister, in making his or her final decision on the proposal after the inquiry, would also have to consider Planning Policy Statement 24 if it is adopted by then.

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

The consultation on Draft Planning Policy Statement 24 ends this Friday, 6th May.


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