There Is No Alternative! (to Casement Park development plan)

A fairly desperate argument from lawyers for the Northern Ireland Planning Service in Belfast High Court today, during the judicial review of the planned £70million redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast.  As the BBC reports

The judge heard that DCAL have contributed £62.5m of the £77m cost of rebuilding the stadium as part of a project involving the development of Windsor Park football stadium and Ravenhill rugby ground.

A Planning Service lawyer said that if the funds are not spent in time, then a clause in the arrangement prevents them from becoming available again.

He said: “It’s important that it’s clear to all concerned that if the outcome of an application of this type is the quashing of planning permission, monies will not be available for this flagship project, but will be returned to the executive for redeployment to manage the obvious cost pressures that arise in other contexts.”

The lawyer added: “Putting it starkly, if the applicants are right and the minister acted unlawfully in granting permission, the consequence will not be what the applicants say they want, a slightly smaller stadium on the same site.

“The consequences will be no stadium, no redevelopment, and the residents will be left with the do-nothing scenario sketched out in the business plan and the environmental statement.

“A crumbling and decaying stadium, rusting floodlights, Japanese knotweed, asbestos on the ground and all the detrimental effects the court has heard about.”

[Well, the NI Executive could certainly use the money… – Ed]  Perhaps…  But the alternatives are hardly the judicial review’s concern if the original decision was politically motivated proper procedures were not followed.  And that shouldn’t prevent a new proposal being progressed should funding be available.

Then again, as BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport mentioned back in March 2011

…one aspect of the announcement which is questionable is its very symmetry. If the Executive took a needs based approach rather than a politically expedient route, would both the GAA and Soccer require exactly £61.4 million? I know it’s a sporting cliche to talk about a “game of two halves”, but is this the sporting equivalent of the judgment of Solomon?

It stirs memories of the symmetrical solution to the Victims Commissioner dilemma – we can’t agree on one so let’s appoint four.

Indeed.

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  • Bryan Magee

    Couldn’t they build a smaller stadium?

  • Did you read anything in the actual post?

  • Bryan Magee

    It seems hard to believe that a smaller stadium is just ruled out in advance – this all or nothing approach does not seem sensible, Pete.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I remember correspondence from Alex Atwood suggesting that the MInister’s decision is final. Ho humm….

    Were “proper procedures” followed during the great Runkerry Golf war? I’d thought from what I was told that planning policy simply provided non-binding guidelines for decisions…………

  • Brian O’Neill

    The argument is a bit invalid. The old stadium is prime real estate, the GAA would not leave it rotting, they would flog the land for houses.

    A whole concept of sending that amount of money on a stadium that will only be used a few times a year is ludicrous. A key point the residents made was that the old Casement Park never had the capacity crowds if was built for never mind the new expanded capacity.

    The should have moved to a new more appropriate site for example the old visteon site would have been more suitable.

  • Max

    I agree totally Brian. I live quite close to Casement and its beyond ludicrous that this ever got this far. The current stite should be turned into a park or developed for houses. Theres an abundance of sites within a mile or so that would have been better (Mona Bypass etc…) and not encroaching on peoples rights. Andersonstown will be a ghost town for Sinn Fein and SDLP votes if this ever goes ahead. They completely underestimated how much people are against this.

  • Bryan – believe me, the all-or-nothing approach is a standard tactic in the development world.

    Rather than offering people a choice of options, you offer only two options: i) your beautiful new development, or ii) an abandoned/neglected site, which will steadily fall into decline (dragging down local property prices and amenity).

    That’s why developers will often demolish existing buildings before even getting planning permission. They are then able to offer the choice between: i) the beautiful new development, or ii) a rat-infested pile of rubble which will inevitably become a local focus for antisocial behaviour.

  • John Gorman

    I agree that a better site should be found. How about Musgrave park? Its bit daft though comparing to past attendances because the new stadium will host Ulster finals and all Ireland quarters something the current ground cannot!!!

  • Zig70

    Usually the demolition is to avoid rates. A smaller stadium would just be short sighted given the popularity of the game and the potential to host Ulster finals. I missed going to Casement to see Antrim lose this year.