Robinson 'Joins' North's Runway Debate

A looming constituency issue for the East Belfast MP Peter Robinson has seen the DUP Leader 'joining' a debate over the proposed extension of the runway at George Best Belfast City Airport.

Although strongly backed by Dublin-based Ryanair - but opposed by both residents and other City Airport airlines - the North's First Minister had little to add to the argument when it reached the Stormont Assembly floor today.

Mr Robinson has signalled neither his own support or opposition to the controversial proposals - despite being the area's most prominent political representative.

In his first public comment on the hotly debated issue, Peter Robinson - who is also an east Belfast MLA - used his leading position only to object to the terms of a motion debated at the Assembly today.

The motion called on his party colleague, NI Environment Minister Sammy Wilson to establish a public inquiry into the matter.

But Mr Robinson said if it were passed the Minister would be "caught between his own planning law and the Assembly's decision".

While not commenting on the rights and wrongs of an issue that is of significant importance to many of his own constituents, Mr Robinson simply told the Assembly on Tuesday that Mr Wilson had been put in an "impossible situation" and that the DUP had therefore tabled an amendment to the original motion.

East Belfast voters are however, incensed. Fiona McKinley of the residents' group, Belfast City Airport Watch told the Belfast Telegraph: "MLAs have got to be emphatic and clear and be in no doubt that such a scheme is not wanted by the thousands of people whose lives are affected by the operations of an expanding urban airport."

The initial motion was put down by Alliance MLA Stephen Farry along with the Green Party.

Mr Farry said questions needed answered: "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?"

However, the airport has claimed that the extension could create 100 jobs and £120m in tourism revenue, should the runway be extended by 590 metres in the direction of Belfast Lough, as suggested.

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.

See: City Airport Extension Inquiry Sought


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