September 25, 2008

Minister Urged By Locals to Listen to Noise of Airplanes

By Linda McKee

EAST Belfast residents were urged to write to Environment Minister Sammy Wilson asking him to come to their homes to experience aircraft noise for himself.

Campaigners seeking tighter controls told a public meeting in Ballymacarrett the minister needs to control the activities of George Best Belfast City Airport, or it could end up becoming Northern Ireland's biggest airport.

Around 50 residents gathered at Connswater Community Centre for what became a heated debate on the impact of aircraft on east Belfast. Proposals for an E-way on the Comber Greenway, the replacement of a bridge over the Sydenham bypass and new housing were also discussed.

Fiona McKinley, from Belfast City Airport Watch, warned if the new Planning Agreement for the airport doesn't contain recommendations made in an Enquiry in Public report several years ago, including limiting the number of flights and fining airlines for breaching the 9.30pm deadline, "we have a huge problem on our hands. This is where Mr Sammy Wilson comes into play.

"The Department of the Environment could control this airport if they wanted and they could control it to keep it in line with sustainable development," she said.

"He needs to come to east Belfast - he knows the area and I think there is no question homes and schools are seriously affected.

"The airport is in an unsuitable location beside thousands of houses, schools and public parks.

"They could easily increase the timing so that there are 20 minutes between flights and they go in and out over the lough instead of the city side.

"We need to tell him it's not a regional airport. We need a Regional Aviation Strategy or we're in danger of ending up with the biggest airport in Northern Ireland in east Belfast - the minister has the power here and he really needs to use it."

Alliance councillor Mervyn Jones said he was concerned plans to increase the length of the runway herald an intention to expand the number of flights.

"We have to be very careful, otherwise things could get worse. If they get to use bigger planes, it's going to get worse," he said.

An airport spokesman said: "There are no ambitions to become the largest airport in Northern Ireland. Growth at the airport is tightly controlled by a Planning Agreement.

"Any future runway extension would not impinge on this agreement, which currently limits the air traffic movements to 45,000 per year."

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