Plans unveiled for £400m stadium at Maze prison site

The North's social development minister David Hanson has urged politicians, sporting bodies, businesses and interested parties…

The North's social development minister David Hanson has urged politicians, sporting bodies, businesses and interested parties to get behind plans to develop a £400 million (€588 million) stadium and major development at the Maze prison site near Lisburn.

He yesterday unveiled what he called the Maze Masterplan on the 360-acre site some 10 miles outside Belfast.

It envisages a multi-sports stadium with a capacity for 42,000 spectators, an international centre for conflict transformation, a hotel, businesses and integrated housing.

The British government is committing £85 million (€125 million) to the all-seater stadium which will stage Gaelic, rugby and soccer games, and has won the qualified endorsement of the GAA, Irish Football Association, and the Ulster Rugby Football Union.

Senior officials from these organisations attended yesterday's launch, including GAA president Nicky Brennan.

Despite attempts to locate the stadium in Belfast rather than at the Maze, Mr Hanson has insisted that the old prison is the best site for the project. The four main political parties attended yesterday's launch, indicating that they may also be prepared to support the scheme.

Some unionist politicians have opposed the plan for the conflict transformation centre, contending that it would commemorate republican and loyalist paramilitaries, particularly Bobby Sands and the 1981 republican hunger strikers.

The cost of the development is estimated at between £200-£400 million (€294-€588 million). Whether it is given the final go-ahead depends on the private sector rowing in with substantial financial backing.

It is hoped to have the project completed by 2012 in time for soccer matches during the London Olympics.

The Maze/Long Kesh site - 360 acres embracing both the 90-acre British army base at Long Kesh and the 270-acre former top-security prison - is described as an exceptional and extensive "brownfield" estate, extremely well placed strategically in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland.

Mr Hanson said the proposals represented a fantastic opportunity to showcase all that was best in Northern Ireland in terms of regeneration, sharing the future and conflict transformation.

"The opportunity now exists to turn security and military assets, for so long associated with conflict, into symbols and engines of economic and social regeneration, renewal and growth."

He also announced a design competition for the stadium, and said that the GAA, soccer and rugby bodies had all nominated representatives to sit on the design steering group.

"This is the only site that can attract all three sports required to make a stadium operationally viable.

"I think it's now time for Northern Ireland to get behind this project, a project for all of Northern Ireland but also a project that will make a significant contribution to the continued success of the region's capital city Belfast," added Mr Hanson.

He said the support of the four main parties for the overall Maze/Long Kesh project remained a critical factor in its delivery.