Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Public inquiry into Belfast airport runway extension

An inquiry is to be held into plans to extend the runway
An inquiry is to be held into plans to extend the runway

A public inquiry is to be held into plans to extend the runway at George Best Belfast City Airport, Environment Minister Edwin Poots has said.

The airport wants to extend the north east end of the runway by 590m while retracting 120m from the south west.

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

There have been 1,486 letters of objection and petitions with 499 names and 2,241 letters of support sent to the authorities over the scheme.

"I have listened carefully to all the arguments in this case and I have decided that, in the interests of everyone concerned, it needs further consideration," Mr Poots said.

"Because of the significant issues at stake, I have instructed my officials to ask the Planning Appeals Commission to hold a public inquiry and to request that the inquiry is given a high priority".

The airport's chief executive, Brian Ambrose, said he was confident the inquiry would reach "a positive outcome".

"We are happy to once again engage in this process but would call for the inquiry to be held in a fashion that does not postpone still further a much needed boost to the economy through increased access, job creation and tourism revenue," he said.

"There is widespread support from business, tourism, the travelling public of Northern Ireland and the local community to extend the runway which would enable airlines to offer direct flights to European destinations from the heart of Belfast, providing consumer choice and furthering access to the region."

A residents group which opposes the extension plan has welcomed the inquiry.

Liz Fawcett, of Belfast City Airport Watch, said that the extension would create "an international airport right on Belfast's doorstep".

"While we had hoped that Mr Poots might have rejected this ludicrous proposal outright, we're very glad that it will now be subjected to robust scrutiny," she said.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association welcomed the inquiry and added that the extension made "good economic sense for Belfast and for Northern Ireland".

"Having an expanded airport with such easy access for tourists to Belfast City Centre can only be a positive development for retailers in the city centre," chief executive Glyn Roberts said.

"We also need to see a rail link to the international airport to further enhance its role and for the publication of a regional aviation strategy for Northern Ireland to guide future policy."

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