Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

£25m Windsor upgrade facing delay over legal bid by Crues

New Windsor Park Stadium
New Windsor Park Stadium

A £25m upgrade to Windsor Park stadium could be thwarted by a legal challenge to the funding plans, the High Court has heard.

Counsel for the Irish Football Association (IFA) claimed delays in resolving the case may cast doubt over the availability of Government cash to redevelop Windsor Park.

Irish League side Crusaders FC are seeking to judicially review the plans amid claims they breach European Union competition laws.

The club claims funding the Windsor Park project would be a form of State aid to Linfield, one of its main rivals and stadium owners.

According to Crusaders' case, the proposals would create unfair revenue streams as well as superior facilities at the south Belfast ground.

A lack of transparency surrounding the scheme has also been alleged.

The Windsor Park redevelopment is part of a redevelopment plan that also includes the Ulster rugby ground at Ravenhill and the GAA's Casement Park.

A total of £110m has been allocated for the three building projects through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

In court yesterday Crusaders' barrister, Peter Girvan, said his clients are still seeking an outline business case document as part of their challenge.

A hearing listed to decide whether the case had enough merit to proceed was put back for four weeks for clarification on issues to do with European Commission involvement.

But David Dunlop, appearing for the IFA as a notice party to the proceedings, expressed concern about the possible implications of a protracted legal case.

"The very fact it's been brought delays the release of funding for the redevelopment of Windsor Park," he told the court.

Mr Dunlop pointed out that the cash allocation was only available within current budgetary constraints.

"It means we need to move very quickly to get this issue dealt with," he added.

"A delay could potentially, if the funding is not retained with the budget, mean the entire development can't proceed."

Mr Girvan replied by stressing that his clients had sent two letters requesting the information.

"We have been waiting for some time for the outline business case relied upon by the department in granting this £25m investment," he said.

"The delay, if there has been any, is with the department."

Following submissions Mr Justice Treacy adjourned the case until next month.

story so far

Work on the redevelopment of Windsor Park is set to begin in September after planning permission for the project was granted earlier this year. Environment Minister Alex Attwood announced the go-ahead for the planned 18,000 all-seater upgrade of the stadium. The IFA formally submitted its planning application in December. Windsor Park is being redeveloped in conjunction with the upgrades of Ravenhill and Casement Park stadiums.

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