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09/02/2018

Watchdog censures Stormont department over failure to enforce Belfast airport planning agreement

Words: Roger Milne
George Belfast City Airport

The Department for Infrastructure’s (DfI) predecessor has been criticised by Northern Ireland’s public service watchdog for failing to monitor late-night flights into the George Best Belfast City Airport, in line with the 2008 planning agreement the Stormont department was meant to enforce.

The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) found “maladministration” in the former Environment Department’s failure to act – and in the way it handled a complaint by residents’ groups affected by aircraft noise.

NIPSO has published a report which highlights that more than 3,000 late-night flights took place over a seven-year period.

The planning agreement meant the airport could only operate after 9.30pm in “exceptional circumstances”.

However, the watchdog complained that the department failed to establish an operational definition of the phrase ‘exceptional circumstances’. It also failed to gather data on a regular and systematic basis.

Ombudsman Marie Anderson said: “The department had no operational definition of the phrase for the purposes of monitoring compliance with the agreement.

“In response to the ombudsman’s inquiries, the department stated that the 3,000-plus late flights which took place over a seven-year period were all ‘exceptional’.”

Now the department’s successor must pay £1,000 in compensation to the residents who brought the complaint and establish a proper scheme to monitor the planning agreement, which will involve analysing data, and proper record keeping.

In a statement sent to The Planner, a spokesman for the DfI said: “The department is giving careful consideration to the full detail and findings of the investigation from the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman into a complaint regarding late flights at George Best Belfast City Airport which was received on Thursday 1 February 2018.”

The ombudsman investigated a complaint brought on behalf of the group Belfast City Airport Watch Limited, which claimed that no action was being taken by the department in relation to flight arrivals and departures between 21.21pm and 23.59pm.

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