CASEMENT PARK DECISION

Casement Park, Belfast  Picture: BBC

Casement Park, Belfast Picture: BBC

A judge has now given his decision about the controversial plans to revamp Casement Park GAA grounds in Andersonstown, West Belfast. The NewsLetter reports that planning permission for the 38,000-seater stadium has been overturned after some local residents objected.

Mr Justice Mark Horner gave a decision at Belfast’s High Court. He said: “I have decided to quash the decision.” Earlier  he highlighted a number of serious flaws in the decision to give the plans the green light and said Stormont environment minister Mark H. Durkan’s decision to grant permission was unlawful.

He identified failures in the environmental impact assessment of the larger stadium and said there had been a reliance by the Department of Environment on an inaccurate figure of 32,600 capacity as a baseline for the project. The effect of huge crowds on the road network to the stadium was also not properly considered, according to the judge.

A residents’ group took legal proceedings against Mr Durkan’s decision to approve the £77 million redevelopment. The Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents’ Association argued that their homes would be dwarfed by the new stadium. Outside the court, Carmel McKavanagh, representing the residents, said it was now up to the GAA to consult them.

“We are delighted at the verdict but also sorry that it has come to this stage. We could have avoided all this hassle, the court case and the cost to everybody concerned if the GAA in particular had listened to us. Most of the defects the judge pointed out were serious ones, they were not half-hearted ones, they were very serious issues that we put to the GAA and planners a long time ago. We have always said we are not against the development of Casement Park, just the size and scale of it”, she said.

Chairman of the GAA’s Casement Park Project Board, Tom Daly, said he was disappointed. He noted the judgment found the siting, size and scale of the Casement Park development were not contrary to planning policy.

“There is a strong resolve within the GAA to submit a new planning application in 2015 which will again follow the due process and scrutiny of the Department of the Environment. This is in keeping with the GAA’s strategic requirement of developing a fit-for-purpose, modern provincial stadium for Ulster at Casement Park. “Ulster GAA remains committed to working with the local community to see the completion of a world-class stadium which has far-reaching benefits for all”, he said.

The North’s Sports Minister Carál Nί Chuilίn said: “I am aware that the GAA offered a number of solutions which sought to address the issues raised in the judgment and I am disappointed that no accommodation was reached. The GAA have indicated that they will lodge a fresh planning application which will take account of the points raised in the judgment and I and my department will fully support them during the new planning process.”

CASEMENT PARK

New Casement Park Aerial View  Photo: Casement Park Redevelopment Project

New Casement Park Aerial View Photo: Casement Park Redevelopment Project

It was to be the GAA’s showcase in Ulster: a completely revamped £77m stadium at Casement Park in West Belfast that would seat 38,000 fans. It would take over from Páirc Naomh Tiarnach in the border town of Clones in County Monaghan as the venue for Ulster football finals. Now a judge at the High Court in Belfast has found that the planning application approved by the North’s Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan was “irretrievably flawed“.

The judicial review that lasted thirteen days heard that defects were also identified in the environmental survey, with no assessment of the impact on local residents of extra stadium facilities such as conference suites, bars, restaurants and car parking. A further hearing is expected later this week to decide the final outcome of the case.

Environment Minister Mark H.Durkan announces approval for project, December 2013  Photo: Casement Park Redevelopment Project

Environment Minister Mark H.Durkan announces approval for project, December 2013 Photo: Casement Park Redevelopment Project

The new stadium was set to be included in the list of GAA venues to be used as one of the Ireland’s bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Hugo McNeill, the chairman of the bid, last month said that the Casement Park upgrade was “crucial” to the Northern Ireland component of its proposal.

Chairman of the Casement Park Project Board, Tom Daly, said they were “deeply disappointed” by the decision. “The proposed redevelopment of Casement Park would have provided the opportunity of a world class provincial stadium for the GAA and the broader community in the heart of Belfast. It would also have provided much needed economic and social benefits to west Belfast and beyond, including financial investment, new jobs, apprenticeships and community projects. Over the coming weeks we will reflect on this decision and consider what the next steps are for Casement Park”, he said.

The redevelopment of Casement Park is part of the Northern Ireland Executive’s policy to upgrade the three major sports grounds in Belfast – soccer’s Windsor Park, Ulster Rugby’s ground at Ravenhill and the GAA stadium at Casement. Three new stands have been constructed at Ravenhill. Work is ongoing on modernising Windsor Park, the home of Irish League club Linfield and the Northern Ireland international team.

I note that former Clones resident Darach MacDonald says he is not going to gloat about this outcome, which he has predicted several times to general disbelief. However, he thinks somebody needs to explain, and quickly, how a planning process described as ‘irretrievably flawed’ was presented to GAA fans and the general public as a fait accompli. From the outset, this was a politically tainted and contrived vanity project to siphon off public funds on a sectarian pretext for an inappropriate development in a place where it was not wanted, he said. 

Ulster Final Clones July 2013 Monaghan v Donegal  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Ulster Final Clones July 2013 Monaghan v Donegal Photo: © Michael Fisher

Meanwhile, the existing venue for the Ulster Football Final, the provincial showpiece for the sport, has been relegated to a state of neglect pending redundancy (without floodlights or other investment since the early 1990s), disparaged and dismissed by those who pursued their ‘Field of Dreams’. As a life-long supporters of Gaelic games, Darach says he is “disgusted and impatient for answers”.