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Residents welcome Assembly committee airport decision

Environment Committee to tell Minister to defer passenger cap move

Local residents say they’re delighted that the Assembly’s Environment Committee is to tell the Environment Minister to defer a decision on removing a crucial noise regulation governing George Best Belfast City Airport.

Earlier this afternoon, the Environment Committee voted to ask the Minister, Edwin Poots, to defer a decision on his proposed removal of the airport’s passenger limit.

The Committee wants the proposal considered after the forthcoming public inquiry on the airport’s controversial runway extension plan.

The Committee took its vote after hearing from both the airport and from the umbrella residents’ group, Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW).

Reacting to the decision, BCAW spokesperson, Dr Liz Fawcett, said residents were delighted with the announcement, but hoped the Minister would heed the Committee’s recommendation.

“We’re absolutely delighted that the Committee has considered all the arguments with care, and is telling the Minister that he must put the needs and interests of ordinary people first,” she said. “We just hope he will heed the Committee’s request.

“If the Minister did go ahead with this move, it would almost certainly lead to a significant expansion by stealth of the airport and the noise problem suffered by residents.

“Until now, the passenger restriction has meant a mixture of small and large aircraft used the airport.

“If that cap is removed, there would be nothing to stop every plane being one of the larger and noisier types which currently fly from the airport – that would be an absolute nightmare for residents.”

Last June, the Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, proposed the removal of a key clause in the airport’s Planning Agreement with the Department of the Environment (DOE) which limits the number of seats offered for sale on outgoing flights from the airport to 2 million in any 12-month period.

The Department recently admitted to the Environment Committee that the airport has, in fact, broken the seats for sale restriction and that the DOE is taking no moves to enforce it. The Department also admitted that it is not enforcing a further condition in the Planning Agreement designed to restrict late flights.

“The Planning Agreement is the only protection residents currently have against excessive aircraft noise,” observed Dr Fawcett.

“The fact that it’s being neither implemented nor enforced properly is a key reason why so many people are suffering from the effects of aircraft noise.

“If the Minister started enforcing these regulations properly rather than trying to get rid of them, he could make a significant difference to the health and quality of life of tens of thousands of local residents.”

Last year, BCAW carried out a survey of more than 400 individuals in areas in east and south Belfast, and in north Down, affected by aircraft noise from the City Airport.

The shock findings from this survey demonstrated the extent to which aircraft noise is already 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.


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