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Showdown looms as Casement case starts

By Francesca Ryan

DECISION day is close in the Casement Park saga as both sides go to court next week for a judicial review of the decision to grant planning permission for redevelop-ment of the stadium.

The Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents’ Association (MORA) applied for the High Court review in the hope of getting planning approval for a 38,000-seater, £76m stadium overturned.

With only days until the hearing, which is scheduled to begin on Tuesday next providing all the paperwork is in order, we spoke with MORA Vice-Chair Dominic McSherry about the residents’ hopes.

“The outcome we seek from the Court,” he said, “is for this planning decision to be quashed, but in the longer term what we hope for is for Ulster Council GAA to revise their proposals, so that we can get a re-developed stadium at Casement Park that is of a scale that the site and neighbourhood can accommodate – one that meets the needs of the GAA and local residents.”

The decision to seek the judicial review split residents, but Dominic maintains that the legal route was taken by local people who felt they had no other option available.

“Residents have only pursued a judicial review as a last resort,” he said. “We have no other means of challenging this decision. The residents stated consistently that they would be content with a stadium that remained at the same height as the current stand and with a capacity of 20-25,000. However, the GAA single-mindedly pursued their plans for the massive stadium currently proposed. The proposed stadium will well exceed the height of the existing stand and will massively overshadow surrounding homes. The neighbouring roads will be swamped by the traffic generated by peak games and events.

“People were determined to take a stand and defend our homes and community from this unnecessary monstrosity that would only be filled for a GAA match on one or perhaps two occasion per year – we will have to live in its shadow for 365 days a year. Hopefully sense will prevail and we will get the stadium that the vast majority of residents want, one that is built to a high standard, is GAA-orientated, fit for purpose and is part of the natural fabric of the community.”

Ahead of the court date, Dominic was also keen to emphasise that MORA’s decision to pursue legal action has not meant a postponement of work at the Casement site.

“The judicial review has not hindered or delayed site development work at Casement,” he said. “The planning approval that was granted for the proposed stadium in January 2014 contained a number of conditions that UCGAA must meet before any work on the proposed stadium can commence. To date, a number of these planning conditions have still not been discharged. Consequently, UCGAA are not yet in a position to commence work on the proposed new stadium, irrespective of the ongoing judicial review.

“A number of these planning conditions are particularly focused on the proposed methods for remediation and dealing with contaminants which were identified as being present on the Casement Park site. In particular, concerns were raised regarding the treatment of asbestos, specifically how the developer proposed to prevent asbestos fibres becoming airborne during excavation work and managing risks to the health of local residents.

“We also want to reiterate a number of points regarding legal costs, which have previously been made in the Andersonstown News. First, the total cost for our own legal team through to final hearing, and covering the whole hearing has been a matter of discussion with our lawyers and we fully expect to operate within our budget and to raise all the funds necessary – win or lose.

“This money is being raised through fundraising or personal donations, all given voluntarily. Any liability for the department’s costs, should we lose, are capped at £10,000 plus any VAT thanks to the Protective Costs Order obtained by our lawyers in this case. This has also been budgeted for and no resident will be liable for any cost. Liability for costs rests with the MORA Committee members, each of whom put their name to the initial affidavit that was submitted to the court. Regarding our prospects for success next week, we are hopeful that our arguments will prevail in court and we are looking forward to the opportunity to be able to state our views to a High Court judge.”

Meanwhile, developers Herron-Buckingham remain hopeful an eleventh-hour deal can still be be struck with MORA prior to Tuesday’s judicial review decision.

But in an email sent to MORA late last week, Damian Herron from Herron-Buckingham reiterated that if the planners’ decision is upheld then all hopes of brokering a deal will end.

“A number of residents are of the belief that the offer that was tabled by Herron-Buckinghmam in April will automatically come back on the table once the judicial review hearing is over, if the DoE win the case. This is totally incorrect,” wrote Mr Herron.


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