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

Belfast High Court has ruled that the decision to grant planning permission for the controversial £70million redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast was “fundamentally flawed”.  However, Mr Justice Horner did not quash the decision, and will take further submissions from lawyers for the Department of the Environment, the GAA and the residents group who mounted the legal challenge before ruling on what the alternative actually is.  From the Irish Times report

The overall bill for the redevelopment in west Belfast has now risen by £2.7 million.

Counsel for the GAA also revealed nearly £5m of preliminary work will be lost if the scheme is halted.

Since the hearing, a redeveloped Casement Park has emerged as a potential venue in Ireland’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

But as he began his judgment today, Mr Justice Horner stressed: “The court refused to be influenced by financial and sporting advantages or disadvantages that may accrue to either party.”

Members of MORA and Stormont Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín were among those packed into Queen’s Bench Courtroom Number 2 for the verdict.

Setting out the grounds on which the challenge succeeded, the judge said the 32,600 spectator baseline or ‘fall-back position’ did not reflect the reality of normal match-day attendances. He pointed out that the GAA never obtained planning rights for the present stadium to facilitate such a large number.

Safety issues with the present terracing meant it would be impossible to admit 32,000 people, the judge said. Due to the 32,600 baseline, the department only assessed the impact of an extra 5,400 coming into the new ground and concluded that an event management plan would cope with such an increase. Roads Service did not carry out a traffic impact assessment of a capacity 38,000 crowd coming into the area, the court heard.

Having held that the department wrongly adoped the 32,600 baseline, Mr Justice Horner also described this approach as fundamentally flawed. No determination was reached on whether the failure to inform the Minister of police safety concerns was deliberate or accidental.

But the judge concluded that it denied Mr Durkan the opportunity to consider all relevant evidence. On that basis, he ruled, his decision to grant planning permission was “irretrievably flawed”.

Defects were also identified in the environmental survey, with no assessment of the impact on local residents of extra stadium facilities such as conference suites, bars, restaurants and car parking. With a further failure to engage with home owners about mitigating the risk of any asbestos escaping from the site during demolition and building work, Mr Justice Horner confirmed the Department had not carried out an assessment in accordance with the regulations. [added emphasis]

Mr Justice Horner did not rule on whether the political original decision to fund the project was fundamentally flawed…  However,  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.

Update  And, after hearing those further submissions, Mr Justice Horner has, indeed, quashed the decision to grant planning approval for the redevelopment of Casement Park stadium.  From the BBC report

A GAA spokesman said the organisation was disappointed with the ruling but added that it will submit a new planning application next year.