Casement Park planning fiasco nearing an end game
GAA determined to press ahead with project as estimated cost rises to €127.5 million
Casement Park: now a derelict site in Belfast as the planning wrangle rumbles on. Photo: Liam McBurney for The Irish Times
Ten years after announcing grand plans to build a new provincial stadium in Belfast, the Ulster Council believes it is one step closer to starting the redevelopment work at Casement Park, which has been ensnared in the planning process since the 38,000-capacity project was turned down over five years ago.
Original planning approval was granted in 2013, only in 2014 that approval was quashed in a High Court legal challenge brought by some local residents; revised plans were submitted in February 2017 with a reduced capacity of around 34,000.
The situation was been further complicated by the failure to reconstitute the Northern Ireland Executive over the past two years, while the estimated cost of the project has now risen to some £110 million (€127.5m).
Now fresh correspondence received from the department for infrastructure (DFL) says that in the absence of a minister, the department may make the final decision on the Casement Park planning application. Still the Ulster Council remains openly frustrated at the time it is taking to conclude the assessment process; DFL has acknowledged the delay and has confirmed that responses will be issued as soon as possible.
“The planning application for the redevelopment of Casement Park was submitted in February 2017, yet over two years later the length of time it is taking for some statutory bodies to respond to the planning authority is a cause of frustration within our project team and across the wider GAA community,” said Tom Daly, chairman Casement Park project board.
“Our expert team has worked closely with the department for communities (DfC) to support all requirements within the planning process. We implemented government recommendations in full, extensively consulted and produced a highly detailed and comprehensive planning submission to ensure the planning authority had all the information it required to make an informed decision on our plans to deliver upon the strategic stadium needs of our members and our communities.”
For years Casement Park was one of the main venues for Ulster football and hurling championship fixtures, plus a home venue for Antrim, although since closing up in 2013, it now lies entirely derelict.
The original redevelopment budget was £77.5 million (€89.8m), with Stormont pledging £62.5m (€72.45m) towards the project and the GAA providing the rest. Only last week Ulster GAA confirmed the cost has risen to £110m (€127.5m) – creating a budgetary shortfall of £32.5m (€37.6m).
“The prolonged nature of the planning process is stalling the project’s progress and is also impacting its budgetary estimate which is now likely to be in the region of £110m,” added Daly.
“With every day of delay pushing out the earliest possible start on site for the project it is imperative that government departments discharge their responsibilities as expediently as possible to mitigate against increased costs.
“Ulster GAA is resolutely committed to the delivery of this project and to addressing the frustrations of our members and their communities’ that Gaelic Games remains the only sport which has not had its strategic stadium needs delivered within the Regional Stadia Programme, a Programme for Government priority... and we place on record our unambiguous commitment to ensure that Belfast will have a world class stadium for Gaelic Games to serve the needs of the GAA in Ulster, Antrim and throughout Ireland long into the future.”
Speaking at the launch of his first annual report in January, GAA director-general Tom Ryan said the association would “do its best to deliver” the redevelopment, and ruled out downsizing the proposed stadium.
“There has to be a stadium built at Casement Park. There has to be – Belfast needs it. We don’t really have an alternative option, and if we are to look at downsizing it, we have to go back to the start of the process again, go back through planning and new physical configuration of the stadium. So no, it is full steam ahead with the project as it is configured at the moment and with the financial commitment that we have made to it.”
* The GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) is seeking clarification on whether or not the straight red cards handed to Kilkenny and Cork players on Sunday, forward Séamus Harnedy for Cork against Tipperary, and defender Conor Delaney for Kilkenny against Wexford, means their one-match bans can be served for this Saturday’s division 1a relegation playoff; otherwise these automatic one-match suspensions will be carried over for the first round of the championship in May.