Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Maze stadium bid 'dead in the water'

The debate over where to build Northern Ireland's new multi-sports stadium heated up last night, after a rival bid claimed the Maze site was "dead in the water".

Former Belfast Lord Mayor Bob Stoker was speaking after new research £ commissioned by Belfast City Council £ found that the city is the best option for the proposed £240m, 38,000 seater arena.

Mr Stoker said the findings also show there are a possible five sites in Belfast that would be more suitable than the former prison, located outside Lisburn.

The Parks and Committee chairman said: "The only viable option is Belfast and the report clearly shows that."

The five locations identified by the research are Ormeau Park, the Danny Blanchflower Park, the North Foreshore, Maysfield and the Boucher Road playing fields.

These alternatives were made known to all members of the council who attended a presentation on the sports stadium yesterday morning.

Mr Stoker said the report proved that the former paramilitary jail falls short of being the best solution for a number of different reasons, including economic.

"I would like to think it (the Maze) is dead in the water," he said.

"Not because it's a Belfast versus Maze decision, but because we only have one opportunity to get this right.

Councillors are expected to decide upon their preferred option within the next couple of months.

The findings of the report are now to be handed to executive ministers Edwin Poots and Peter Robinson who are currently reviewing plans for a stadium at the Maze.

For many years, the government's favoured site for a complex housing football, rugby and gaelic appears to have been the Maze.

But last month, a senior DUP source told PA that "it is unlikely that the Maze stadium will go ahead".

DUP Finance Minister Peter Robinson is currently reviewing the business case for the project and will give his recommendation to the Executive in the coming weeks.

Culture Minister Edwin Poots is, however, a long-time supporter of the Maze plan. He insisted that while the project has been discussed by senior members of the party, there has been no firm decision.

But Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea said he believed the DUP had already decided to dump the Maze site.

"Highly reliable sources tell me that the decision to dump the Maze stadium was taken at a DUP meeting in Lisbon, Portugal,"he said.

In April, it was also revealed last night that a letter sent from the Road Service to the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure raised concerns about any Belfast-based stadium such as Windsor Park.

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