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.