Casement given the green light

By Ciara Quinn

THE redevelopment of Casement Park into a state-of-the-art 38,000-seater stadium as been given the go-ahead.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan granted full planning permission for the new stadium on Thursday, meaning the GAA can now begin work on the state-of-the-art £77 million stadium on the Andersonstown Road site.

Construction work is set to get under way at Easter and the stadium is due to be completed in time for the 2016 Championship.

The official photocall to mark the announcement was interrupted by a small number of local  residents outraged by news that the redevelopment had been given the green light.

Those living in close proximity to the ground have led a long and vocal campaign to change the design of the stadium, claiming it is too high and too close to neighbouring homes.

Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín described the announcement as a key milestone in the development of her regional sports stadia programme, which follows the Executive pledge of up to £110 million of government funding for the extensive redevelopment of three sports stadiums at Ravenhill, Windsor Park and Casement.

 

“Having planning approval granted for Casement Park is the final part of the jigsaw in the regional sports stadium programme,” said Minister Ní Chuilín.

“Not only is this a tremendous boost for the GAA in Ulster, the re-development of Casement will bring many benefits to the community in West Belfast through construction jobs and a catalyst for regeneration in the area around the stadium.

“The granting of planning permission highlights the excellent progress being made by the GAA and the Stadium Development Programme.”

Environment Minister Durkan was keen to highlight the local benefits of the stadium.

“This is a tremendous boost for Gaelic games and for sport here,” he said.

“Planning approval will now lead to the creation of a modern sports stadium with improved facilities and increased spectator comfort. This new stadium is a high quality design which will be a recognised landmark building.

“The benefits are not just for Andersonstown and the immediate area, but for Belfast, Ulster and the island of Ireland as a whole.

“Of course, in the immediate future there will be construction jobs and there has been an undertaking from the GAA and the contractors that they will go to local people. That is particularly important in an area such as this with high unemployment and deprivation. In the medium term we have to look at the impact of having a state–of-the-art facility here that will incorporate not just Gaelic games but many other community-based activities and I believe the GAA will honour their commitment through the management of the stadium committee and embrace the local community and involve them.”

The new stadium will host the Ulster Senior Football semi-finals and final each year, as well as potential All-Ireland quarter-finals. It will remain Antrim’s home ground and will continue to be used, as the old ground was, for Antrim, club, Ulster colleges and Cumann na mBunscoil matches.

Casement Park has also been named as a potential venue for the 2023 Rugby Union World Cup, should Ireland’s bid to host the event be successful.

Minister Durkan admitted that the decision to grant planning permission was a hard call given the strength and volume of local objections, articulated by his DoE predecessor and SDLP colleague, Alex Attwood.

“This has certainly been a difficult decision and its not one I have taken lightly,” he told journalists gathered for the announcement.

“I understand some of the concerns raised by objectors but I have to weigh that against the wider economic benefits for the area and the region, and I believe I have done so.”

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