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Residents welcome Planning Bill withdrawal

Residents campaigning on the issue of aircraft noise have welcomed the decision of the Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, to withdraw the controversial Planning Bill 2013.

The umbrella campaign group, Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW), was particularly concerned about the Bill because a successful High Court case which it brought in 2011 would not have been possible had the Bill been in place.

Commenting on the Minister’s move, Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of the campaign’s Steering Group said:

“Had this legislation come into force, it would have made it impossible for ordinary people to challenge a planning decision on the grounds that it was irrational, misinformed or contravened domestic law.

“We were very concerned about a number of aspects of this Bill, but especially alarmed at the two significant and anti-democratic amendments which were added at the last minute by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

“As the Minister observed when he announced his decision, the possibility of judicial review is a vital check which helps to ensure the objectivity of the planning process.

“Undermining the integrity of the planning system was never the right way forward.”

Under Clause 15 (Amendment 26), BCAW could not have taken its successful judicial review case in 2011 against a decision by the then Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, to remove a key part of the Planning Agreement between the Department of the Environment and George Best Belfast City Airport.

BCAW’s main argument was that the then Minister had not considered the environmental implications of his decision prior to making it. This was a failure to consider a relevant matter which would not have been a permissible criterion under Clause 15.

Had BCAW been unable to take that case, tens of thousands of ordinary people who live under the George Best Belfast City Airport flight paths would have been affected, as a major element of their protection against undue levels of aircraft noise would have been removed.


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