Plans for a major redevelopment of Ravenhill rugby stadium have been given the go ahead, Assembly ministers have confirmed.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he has backed planning permission for improvements at the south Belfast ground, including three new stands.
However some residents have been concerned for over a year that their views are not being considered by the Club.
A spokesperson for the Ulster Rugby Residents Association told the Community Telegraph in 2011: “We have had enough as it is, with the rubbish in the streets, noise level, and getting into and out of your house.
“As soon as it's brought in there will be more non-rugby functions. It will be harder for us to get in and out again.
“It's not a massive venue as it is and they need more ground capacity to perform in competitions and that will be detrimental to the residents.”
However, another local group, the Ravenlink Women’s Group say they are very supportive of the redevelopment. A spokesperson said: “It is a fantastic idea, and will help bring more people to Belfast and bring more families to the rugby.”
The Executive has earmarked up to £14.7 million for the scheme, out of a total of £110 million available for upgrading rugby, football and Gaelic stadia.
The new Ravenhill stands are said to complement the existing stand, opened in October 2009, and will raise the stadium's capacity to 18,200, meaning that the ground will be suitable to host some of the top competitions in Europe.
The news is a further boost for Ravenhill, the home of Ulster Rugby, days after the team qualified for its second successive Heineken European Cup quarter-final.
Alex Attwood said: “This is a tremendous boost for rugby and for sport here. Planning approval will now lead to the creation of a stadium that is fit for the 21st century.
“In arriving at my decision, I have given careful consideration to the need for a new stadium and views of the local community amongst others.
“I am satisfied that the new Ravenhill can be achieved without causing undue harm to the surrounding area or its citizens.
“Ulster Rugby will have a major role in this regard.
“The role of planning is to create a better place, to live, work and invest in Northern Ireland, and this ambitious, exciting project will create employment opportunities for local people, particularly during the construction process.
“It is a further example of how sport in NI, which is very much on the up, can further develop.”
Ulster Rugby Chief Executive, Shane Logan thanked Mr Attwood and his officials at the Planning Service as well as the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure and Sport Northern Ireland for their assistance with the project to date.
“The development at Ravenhill will not only benefit our sport but will have wider benefits for health, tourism and the Northern Ireland economy and we are privileged to be part of a legacy that will remain in Northern Ireland for years to come,” he added.
Councillor Adam Newton said: “I welcome the Minister’s announcement of investment in Ravenhill and I believe this will be warmly supported by rugby fans from across Northern Ireland.”
“This development can be a win — win for rugby fans and residents alike but only if everyone involved works closely together to ensure the success of the project.”