05/06/2006

Belfast launches drive for sports stadium

Belfast City Council are today to launch a new drive to have Northern Ireland's national sports stadium built in Belfast.

This comes a week after the government's proposal for the development of the 42,000-seater stadium on the former Maze Prison site near Lisburn were officially launched.

Representatives from the City Council have argued that the stadium needs to be brought into the city centre and closer to the people.

Opponents of the Maze site said Belfast was the only viable location and pointed to stadiums in major UK cities, citing the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Croke Park in Dublin, and the new Wembley in London as examples.

Councillor Bob Stoker, chairman of the council's community and recreation committee, said that attending sporting events is an occasion and "the vast majority of sports fans in Northern Ireland would prefer a stadium in Belfast, which is accessible by public transport and is close to other night-time entertainment venues and hotels."

He added: "There is a gathering momentum behind citing a multi-sports stadium in Belfast and I believe it will prove to be the most viable show in town with regard to stadium provision."

Seven major developers, including local and international companies with experience of stadium development have already responded to the council's recent advertisement for expressions of interest.

Mr Stoker continued: "Let there be no doubt that Belfast City Council is encouraged by the response we have had to our proposals, both in terms of sports fans and developers," he said.

"The July 25 deadline underlines our determination to proceed with our plans, regardless of plans for elsewhere, and we firmly believe that this is a viable project."

However, government Ministers still claim that the disused Maze site is still the best site for the stadium, even though it will be based almost 12 miles outside of Belfast.

Last week, David Hanson, the Northern Ireland Office minister responsible for the Maze project, said that all of the provinces main three sports - rugby, football and GAA, who would be using the stadium, were behind the proposal.

The government's £85 million project will contain a hotel, conference facilities, leisure and entertainment outlets including bars, cafés, restaurants, specialist retail outlets, and a multi-screen cinema.

It will also include an exhibition centre, showgrounds, an equestrian centre, as well as housing.

The final decision on the plans is likely to be revealed within the next 18 months.

(EF)

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