Stormont’s infrastructure minister has said a seat sales restriction at George Best Belfast City Airport should be removed.
Chris Hazzard endorsed in full the recommendations of an independent inquiry which called for the step.
The airport is proposing to replace the cap with noise controls and the minister said technical issues are still to be resolved in that area. The Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) found residents living more than 5km away should not face high volumes.
The airport wants to change its planning agreement, removing a restriction on the number of departure seats it can sell in a year, currently capped at two million. Residents have led a long-running campaign of opposition based around rising noise levels.
Mr Hazzard said: “I have considered the PAC report of the public inquiry and agreed ‘in principle’ to endorse their recommendations in full, subject to resolving the technical issues around the proposed noise management system.”
He said he has instructed his officials to liaise with the airport on the detail of a modified planning agreement based around the recommendations.
Dr Liz Fawcett, chair of Belfast City Airport Watch residents’ group, welcomed the minister’s declaration.
“The Commission clearly tried to strike a balance between the commercial interests of the airport, and the health and quality of life of the tens of thousands of local residents affected by this issue.
“Although permissible noise levels will rise, once the report’s recommendations are implemented we can be confident that we won’t have to suffer the extreme levels of noise which could have occurred had the airport been given everything which it was seeking.”
The inquiry’s other recommendations included:
:: A levy of fines should be clearly laid out, to be imposed on flights landing after 9.30pm, increasing incrementally every 15 minutes.
:: A departure noise control system should be introduced setting out a specified maximum limit. Fines should be established and clearly set out in the amended agreement, with all penalties payable to an Airport Community Fund.
:: A continuous descent approach should be adopted for all aircraft landing.
:: A noise insulation scheme should be brought in for residential and noise-sensitive properties experiencing noise levels of 63 decibels or above.