by Staff Writers
Istanbul (AFP) Feb 11, 2014
Turkey vowed Tuesday to press ahead with building what could become one of the world's busiest airports in defiance of a court order halting the project over environmental concerns.
A court last month suspended work on Istanbul's third airport after local residents and environmental groups filed a lawsuit arguing that the project would cause serious damage to the environment, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
But Transport Minister Lutfi Elvan said the suspension would not interfere with construction of the airport in a heavily forested area near Terkos Lake, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Istanbul.
"This was a decision only for a temporary suspension pending the environmental impact approval report. In no way will it affect the construction of the airport," Elvan told reporters.
Environment and Urban Development Minister Idris Gulluce said his ministry would appeal the decision, saying "we believe that there is a factual mistake", without elaborating.
"No one should come to the conclusion that the airport (construction) will be prevented and Turkey's world-famous project will be halted," he said.
The court requested an expert report on construction plans and is expected to make a final decision on the fate of the project within a year.
The Cengiz-Kolin-Limak-Mapa-Kalyon Consortium, a Turkish joint venture, won a tender for the project last May after bidding 22 billion euros ($30 billion) for a 25-year lease to build and operate the planned airport.
The first stage of construction is set for completion in four years, and the facility is projected to handle 150 million passengers a year when fully operational in 2018.
Istanbul's main Ataturk airport is fast reaching capacity, having seen a record 16.7 percent jump in passenger numbers in 2012, indicating that the new airport could turn the city into a major aviation hub.
The increase was the largest in Europe that year, according to the International Air Transport Authority (IATA).
Istanbul's second airport Sabiha Gokcen, which began operations in 2001, has eased some of the pressure on Ataturk.
The third airport in Turkey's largest city aims to rival Dubai's Al Maktoum International airport, which opened in October last year and is expected eventually to accommodate 160 million passengers a year.
The CEO of Turkish Airlines, which is 49 percent state-owned and connects Istanbul to more than 200 destinations, was adamant about the need for a third airport.
"It is of course not possible to do without the third airport. It is not possible to imagine something like that. I see this as a temporary thing," Temel Kotil said.
But environmentalists slammed the project's proximity to Terkos Lake, one of metropolitan Istanbul's six main drinking water reservoirs, providing 25 percent of demand.
"We are not opposed to such projects but the choice of location is wrong," Baran Bozoglu, head of the Turkish Chamber of Environmental Engineers, told AFP.
"The construction will destroy the lifeblood and the natural habitat of Istanbul," he said.
"When we run out of water, will the third airport be able to provide us with water? This is an environmental massacre," he said.
The plan to build a third airport was greeted with anger by many groups when it was announced in May last year.
It came amid mass protests that started as a local environmental campaign to save an Istanbul park from redevelopment and evolved into a nationwide anti-government movement.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government is frequently criticised for its ambitious construction plans for the bustling city of 16 million -- which also include a third bridge across the Bosphorus and a canal parallel to the international waterway to ease traffic congestion.
The building industry has boomed under Erdogan but a controversial corruption probe is currently investigating allegations of high-level bribery linked to some construction projects.
The probe has implicated members of Erdogan's inner circle, including high-profile businessmen and the sons of ministers, and has posed a major challenge to the premier's 11-year-rule.
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