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MEA Buckna airstrip application

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Two flights have had to be redirected to Buckna due to poor visibility, a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s planning committee has heard.

On the agenda was a planning application for the installation of lights at a runway at Buckna Road, outside Broughshane in County Antrim.

The 750-metre private landing strip at Slemish Airfield was constructed in 2017 and is operational with 52 flights permitted annually. The first landing took place in July.

The proposed new LED lights, which are 26 cms off the ground, can be activated by the pilot when five miles from the landing strip and would continue to operate for 15 minutes.

The application for lighting was made by the couple Ernie Graham and his wife Dr Karen Graham who also built the luxurious Slemish Retreat and Spa near the landing strip in the Braid Valley.

The proposal has resulted in 13 objections centring on potential impact on wildlife and concerns over noise.

Planning officers have said they are “confident these issues gave been addressed”.

Speaking remotely at the planning committee meeting, TUV leader Jim Allister MLA said: “I think the treatment of objectors by the Planning Department in the council has been quite shameful.

He claimed that a request for a ‘Zoom’ meeting in December with objectors was “ignored”.

He criticised what he described as “procedural unfairness” saying that “each party must have the right to be heard”.

Mr Allister proceeded to describe the application as “creeping development”.

He suggested that it is being sought in a bid to “facilitate night-time flights”.

“This is an idyllic part of the Braid Valley. It is farm land. What are night-time flights going to do? Think of the impact on livestock.

“I urge the committee to refuse this brazen application.”

Paul Frew MLA told the meeting that he considered the proposal to be “industrialisation” of the Braid Valley.

He questioned why lighting had not been part of the original application.

“I would urge the committee to think of the flora and fauna, river basin, issue around milking cows and sheep with lambs.”

Larne Lough DUP representative Alderman Paul Reid said that he had lived a mile-and-a-half from Belfast International Airport previously and “not one sheep ever ran when a plane came into land”.

Mr Frew replied: “This is a landing strip in a faming area beside fields and this will affect a large swathe of the Braid Valley.”

Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Robert Logan commented that the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has no objections.

“They would normally complain if we were doing something detrimental to an area of natural beauty.”

Carnlough Road resident Judy Irwin, who lives opposite the runway, highlighted what she described as a “massive shocking change in the local area”.

She maintained that if “50 multi-coloured runway lights” are “essential for health and safety, they should have been included in the original application”.

Carrickfergus Ulster Unionist CouncillorJohn McDermott pointed out that the lights are a safety feature and would not affect the wildlife.

Braid DUP Councillor William McCaughey stressed that the application has been made in the interest of safety.

“To date, two daytime flights have been redirected to this airstrip due to poor visibility and light,” he stated.

“This airstrip is integrated into the landscape in such a way it is barely distinguishable from the ground without the landing perimeter being highlighted.”

He went on to say that the landing strip lights will be “visible for 15 minutes per flight”.

He added that there is a “strict stipulation” about 52 flights per year adding that the lights may operate just 15 minutes per week.

“I do not see it breaking any regulations. I welcome the recommendation to grant approval of this application.”

Engineer Ivan Scott told the meeting that he has been involved with the scheme since the beginning.

“It is for private purposes. The client has a dwelling adjacent to this site,” he explained.

“The purpose of the lights is to ensure the perimeter of the airstrip is clearly marked for the pilot’s approach. It is a grass airstrip.”

He stressed that the lights would be at ground level and “not lamp-posts.”

Proposing approval of the application, Knockagh Alliance Alderman Noel Williams, a former Wing Commander, said: “We are not talking jumbo jets going into Belfast International type lighting.”

Ald Reid said he was “happy to second the proposal”.

Nine councillors voted in favour of the application with one against.

The council’s solicitor stated that the correct procedure for dealing with objections had been applied.

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