Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Robinson steps in on airport plan

George Best Belfast City Airport
The airport hopes to fly to new European destinations

First Minister Peter Robinson has objected to the terms of a motion on a proposed extension of the runway at George Best Belfast City Airport.

The motion calls on Environment Minister Sammy Wilson to establish a public inquiry into the matter.

But Mr Robinson said if it was passed the environment minister would be caught between his own planning law and the assembly's decision.

The airport has said it could create 100 jobs and 120m in tourism revenue.

If planning permission is granted, the runway would be extended by 590 metres in the direction of Belfast Lough.

Mr Robinson told the assembly on Tuesday that Mr Wilson had been put in an "impossible situation".

He said the DUP had tabled an amendment to the original motion which had been put down by Alliance MLA Stephen Farry along with the Green Party.

Earlier, Mr Farry said questions needed answered.

Mr Farry said: "You have to ask yourself why is only one airline, namely Ryanair at the airport, pushing for this? Why is BMI, at best, neutral and why is Flybe, the main user of the airport, actually opposed, and lobbying against the runway extension?

"We have to look at the competition issues. Do we actually need two international airports for Belfast going head to head for a city of that size?"

However, Katie Best, the business development director at the airport, said the decision to ask for a runway extension was based on a "very strong business case".

"A public inquiry, realistically, would mean a delay of over two years and the question for both ourselves in the business and for Northern Ireland as an economy is: 'Is that going to have a detrimental affect and more to the point does it actually add any value?'"

She said the airport wanted to develop links to new European destinations.

"This extension is not a demand from Ryanair," she said.

"This is a very clear cut business case. Of course there is an advantage that we have a commitment from an airline to start international routes but there is also significant interest from elsewhere."

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