Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland Executive environment minister, is to ask the Planning Appeals Commission to hold an inquiry into an application to extend the George Best Belfast City airport runway.

He said: “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.

“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 wants permission to extend the 1,829m runway by 590m at the north east end and reduce it by 120m at the south west end – but the application has divided opinion.

Planners have received 1,486 letters of objection and eight petitions containing 499 names as against 2,241 letter of support.

Brian Wilson, a Green party legislative assembly member, welcomed the inquiry decision.

He said: “It is essential that the economic, social, environmental, and health impacts of this proposal are given full consideration.

“This is a victory for the residents who have campaigned long and hard to ensure that a public inquiry takes place. I am delighted that their efforts have not been in vain.”

Meanwhile, Brian Ambrose, the airport’s chief executive, is confident the inquiry will lead to a “positive outcome” arguing an extension will boost the economy and tourism and create jobs.

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.”

David Gibbs

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