15/12/2014

GAA Stadium Redevelopment 'Unlawful'

A judge has ruled that a planned redevelopment of Casement Park stadium in west Belfast was "unlawful".

The High Court judge said that Mark H Durkan, Northern Ireland's Environment Minister, had acted unlawfully in approving the new 38,000-seat stadium. Mr Durkan approved the development in December 2013, but the decision was opposed by local residents who objected to the size of the GAA venue. They launched a legal challenge in response.

According to reports, in his ruling, Mr Justice Horner labelled the Minister's decision-making as "fundamentally flawed".

He added that failures had been identified with regards to an environmental impact assessment of the proposed facilities. For example, the Department of the Environment had relied on the venue's current 32,600 capacity as a baseline for looking at the environmental impact of the additional seats.

Elsewhere, the judge said that the new development would be replacing a stadium which has not been close to selling out a lower capacity for a number of years.

Mr Justice Horner was told the new stadium would be replacing a ground which hasn't come close to selling out a lower capacity in decades.

There was also safety concerns regarding police claims that – if the stadium was full – it would take around 47 minutes to evacuate the venue in the event of an emergency.

While Justice Horner ruled the decision to be unlawful, he did not quash Minister Durkan's decision. Further submissions are now understood to be made on the appropriate remedies.

Commenting on the ruling, Mark H Durkan said: "I have been advised that the court found that the decision was unlawful on a number of counts, I understand that the judge wishes to reconvene on Wednesday to hear both parties' proposals before making a final decision. Before then, I will consider what the judge has said very carefully. Clearly I am disappointed, both for my department and for the GAA."

The redevelopment of Casement Park is part of the government's policy to upgrade NI's three main sports grounds in the capital – Windsor Park, Kingspan Stadium (formerly Ravenhill), and Casement Park, for football, rugby and Gaelic games, respectively. While work has been completed at Kingspan, work at Windsor Park is continuing.

(JP/CD)

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