Not in the public interest?

In the Observer, Henry McDonald reports on the Strategic Investment Board’s refusal to release the economic appraisals, business strategies and other documentation, relating to the £85 million stadium development proposed for the former Maze prison site, under the Freedom of Information Act, until an assessment is made on whether to do so “might otherwise prejudice or would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.” It’s not the final word, yet, but the decision to make such an assessment, of whether the documentation upon which the decision should have been based would undermine public confidence in the proposal if that documentation was made public, has raised the suspicions of opponents of the scheme.Worth noting the Belfast Telegraph report on the decision by the Ulster Council of the GAA from 27th October, and so far, the only sporting body to commit in principle to using the stadium –

Ulster GAA chiefs confirmed last night that they would welcome the opportunity to use a new purpose-built facility at the Maze – the first of the three major sports to give it the green light.

However, the Ulster Council, while reiterating its commitment in principle to the new stadium concept, made it clear that “certain issues” will require to be addressed before formal confirmation that major gaelic football and hurling matches will be staged there.

“As one of the three major sports whose involvement is deemed necessary to ensure the success of the project, we have made a submission to the Strategic Investment Board with the rider that there are some matters which will require clarification,” a spokesperson explained.

“We would hope to have further discussions on these in the foreseeable future.”

  • Absolute disgrace. I tried to get copies of the reports/appraisals of the shortlisted sites in Titanic Quarter, North Foreshore and the Maze and got the same “not in the public interest” and “prejudice government policy” excuses. What’s not clear is how that releasing information on a decision that has already been made could prejudice policy formulation :\

    The whole stadium project has become a joke.

  • james

    A total waste of money, the whole idea should be scraped.

    Who is going to fill this stadium ?

    Not soccer, not Rugby and the GAA have said they would only use it for lesser games.

    There are better ways of spending 80 million pounds.

    It has white elephant written all over it.

  • iluvni

    I wonder what these ‘certain issues’ actually are!

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    The whole project is a half-baked joke. I have the honour of living a few miles from the proposed site and as James says, it has white elephant written all over it.
    Lisburn already has a cavernous white elephant called the Island Centre where complete non-entities perform to audiences of up to 50 and security guards patrol in a desperate attempt to find a punter.
    Now the city for everyone is set to be gifted a giant stadium, approx. 3 miles from the centre of a ‘city’ with no hotel, precious few guest houses and the night-life of Beirut. It will play host to the occasional big GAA match in the centre of possibly the most Unionist constituency in the province, some local soccer matches where the players may well outnumber the punters and a few rugby matches which might optimistically nudge a 50% capacity crowd.
    For £85m we might just get a decent local hospital rather than the creaking one threatened with the imminent loss of it’s acute services.
    Instead we’re supposed to be delighted with the sporting equivalent of Craigavon. Thanks a bunch.

  • Nestor Makhno

    You have wonder what is going on here?

    This stadium could be some kind of focus for economic development but there is nothing at the site (nor is there likely to be) to exploit it – no pubs, no restaurants, no shops, no hotels and no public transport.

    I visited San Francisco last year where the city government made a huge effort to have the SF Giants stadium built at our equivalent of the shipyard site. There is now a brilliant metro service directly to the stadium and all about (what was once derelict land) are shops and restaurants. People hang about before and after the game. There is atmosphere.

    Can you imagine the Maze experience? Driving up the M1 in the driving rain on a October evening; fighting with the other drivers to park in an inadequately designed link road (a la the Odyssey); buying a hugely expensive hot dog inside with the other 800 people; and then hoofing it straight back to Belfast as quickly as possible before the pubs close.

    Who were the consultants on this project? And do they think their fee been worth the question marks raise over their objectivity in the face of (now doubt) intense government presssure?

  • Which brings us back to the original point – why were the Titanic Quarter and North Foreshore sites unsuitable compared to the Maze? The answer is – we don’t know because the government won’t release the appraisals.

    Something to hide, methinks.

  • james

    There is no need for a stadium with a capacity of 42,000 at the Maze or anywhere else for that matter.

    As i stated earlier in this thread, who is going to fill it.

    90% of Rugby fans when questioned before an Ulster game at Ravenhill stated that they wanted to remain at the South Belfast Venue.The Ulster branch of the IRFU are going to spend several millions on improvements at the ground, even after the announcement of plans for the new stadium

    The GAA have a number of venues at their disposal in Ulster, including Clones and Casement Park.The GAA have announced further plans for improvements at Casement Park, including floodlights and an increased seating capacity.

    It will be a white elephant at the Maze and it will be a white elephant in Belfast.

    Very few seem to want a new stadium so let’s channel the 80 million into improving the overall sporting infastructure.

  • mnob

    Forgive this wildly speculative post but deep down in the depths of my mind I remember coca cola announcing their Irish operations were moving to the Maze site beside the stadium.

    Is all this tied together ?
    DO I remember incorrectly ?

  • JO

    The Consultants were PricewaterhouseCoopers – What qualifications have they to appraise such a project?

  • David Cather

    I think an opportunity was missed by not including the national stadium in the Titanic Quarter redevelopment project. A national stadium in the heart of the city a la Cardiff, would have been the ideal symbol of a regenerated city. I can’t understand why it wasn’t included, the economic’s of putting the stadium in the city made sense to me.

  • George

    David,
    Dublin development company Harcourt and Dermot Desmond stumped up the cash for the Titanic Quarter because there is money to be made from the investment. (Can’t imagine Dermot wanting to be associated with a Northern Ireland “national stadium”, by the way.)

    Why would the British government jeopardise a 1-billion pound project funded by others for an 85-million pound stadium funded by them?

    Makes no sense to me. Why do you think a stadium that will stand empty most of the year makes economic sense for some of the best real estate in Belfast?

  • Nestor Makhno

    George – I believe Titanic Quarter is to be a mixed use site – accomodation, retail, entertainment, light industry and so on.

    If it’s organised the way these things usually are then the Dublin development company are probably putting in the infrastructure to get the site up and running and then selling or renting off plots to third parties.

    So I’m sure they would have been delighted for the stadium to be built on their site.

    Think of the stadium as more like the Odyssey Arena development – which is an ice rink with a lot of other stuff bolted on. Would the Odyssey have worked out in Lisburn? No chance. As it is, there are complaints that the Odyssey has poor transport links to the city centre (and it’s only a quarter of a mile from city hall – walking distance!)

    If there is is an argument to be made about the non-viability of the Titanic Quarter as a location for the stadium it’s, I suppose, that it would have undermined the viabilty of the Odyssey…

  • George

    Nestor,
    the Odyssey is much smaller and is in constant use from what I can see. There appears to have been a big need for this size and type of venue in Belfast and it filled it, even if the transport to it isn’t perfect.

    There doesn’t seem to be the same need for a 30,000-40,000 seater stadium so its viability will only increase if it is put somewhere where the land isn’t valuable. Hence, the Maze.

    To build it at the Titanic Quarter would not only increase the cost, it would lose other investment money.

    For the record, I am for renovating Windsor Park into a 15,000-20,000 seat stadium for the NI national team. Give the IRFU and the GAA their share to upgrade Ravenhill and Casement.

    Putting them all in the same stadium is madness.

  • Nestor Makhno

    Geroge – that seems a sensible proposition – and with no other agenda at play – would have been the way to go.

    However, in reality, it would leave the NIO with their main problem left unresolved – what to do with the Maze.

    It also would leave in place the sectarian nature of sport here – with local football and gaelic games having two totally separate audiences (with rugby attracting mainly middle class protestants and a sprinkling of middle class catholics).

    The national stadium seemed to have grand aspirations to being a uniting project (however unlikely that prospect). And perhaps (as with the Giants hockey team) a new well funded Belfast football team vying for English league football would have gone some way to achieving this. As a stand-alone project I assume the only thing uniting each group of fans will be shared graffitti in the stadium toilets….

  • George

    Nestor,
    I agree that there are huge divisions in sport in Ireland, north and south, but the idea of a “national stadium” for Northern Ireland can only appeal to those who want partition to continue so could never unite the two tribes.

    At its basest level, Irish people already have an Irish nation so what’s the point of ascribing national status to a subset, namely a Northern Irish one?

    Of course, the sporting bodies are only interested in themselves so might “unite” out of convenience to cash in but they will never unite in spirit.

    No southern rugby school I know of lets GAA inside the door and up until 20 years ago they were still sawing down rugby posts in Connacht and soccer was mainly within the Pale and in the “garrison” towns.

    The FAI didn’t ask if switching to summer would affect the GAA either.

    I assume it’s the same in northern rugby circles about the GAA and vice versa and the Maze stadium wouldn’t change this.

    The decision for the Maze should strictly be a financial and infrastructural one.

    If you start factoring in what to do with the Maze, hopes and dreams, then it will definitely fail.

    For me the reality is that soccer needs at most a 20,00-seater stadium in Belfast, which won’t be churned up by rugby players a week before the big match.

    Cheapest option is Windsor Park, home of soccer in Northern Ireland. Maybe NI soccer is unionist/British but moving venues won’t change that, it will only make it tougher for it to survive. That is in no one’s interests.

    GAA needs a larger venue, which doesn’t have to meet UEFA requirements so can take terracing. Cheapest option is an upgrade of Casement. GAA at the Maze won’t make the organisation less Irish. The PSNI competing will do more for changing mindsets than any stadium.

    The IRFU can also live with a small stadium with terracing. Cheapest option Ravenhill. Rugby will remain middle class.

    Northern Ireland could have 3 decent and viable sporting venues with great atmospheres for a very reasonable 85 million.

    Can you imagine what nearly 30 million would do for Windsor Park? The Reebok only cost 35 million, for example.

    That is an achievable reality rather than dreaming that some day the Premier League will come to Belfast or that unionists will turn to the GAA and nationalists will rediscover the Northern Ireland football team.

    It would show more respect to all communities if they were each given the money for their respective projects rather than demanding a sporting love-in.

  • eranu

    im really hoping this maze site doesnt go ahead. similar to what was mentioned above, it will have all the atmosphere of a drive to junction one…
    i had thought it was proposed so that republicans could have some sort of shrine to glorify time spent in prison etc. also the ‘international conflict resolution centre’ part is actually so ridiculus it should never be mentioned again… surely its time to get over all this sort of nonsense ?

    a smallish national stadium can be sucessful, but only if its sited in belfast. it has to be within easy travelling distance of the city centre for access to pubs, restaurants and shops. preferably within walking distance, its only when you get large crowds walking around that you get the build up of atmosphere that would be needed to make a stadium successful.
    im thinking of the many enjoyable vists to landsdowne road ive had and the walk to a from the stadium along the dublin streets.

    other stadiums ive visited have been in city centre locations. surely only a moron would build a stadium in a field in the middle of the country ??

    my preference is the titanic quarter, to me its the only logical choice.