Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Green light is given for Maze peace centre work

Aerial view of the Maze Prison 18/7/2000
Aerial view of the Maze Prison 18/7/2000

The go-ahead has been given for work on the controversial peace centre at the former Maze Prison – despite unionist disquiet.

In one of his last acts as Environment Minister, the SDLP's Alex Attwood confirmed planning permission for minor works, including disabled access and installation of a heat and power system to the listed buildings.

An Assembly written answer from Mr Attwood to the TUV's Jim Allister also revealed "elevational changes" to the visitors' building received the green light.

Mr Allister said: "DUP salesmen for the Provo project at the Maze have been pretending the retained buildings may not even be open.

"Yet, here we have official confirmation that planning permission has already been issued to construct disabled access to these very buildings – as well as a heat and power system approved for the laundry. Patently, the plan is to have these retained buildings open. It's time the DUP stopped pretending otherwise and got on side with the rest of unionism to stop the planned glorification of terrorism."

There was no response from the DUP to the criticism.

However, the latest development came as it emerged major construction on the site may not begin for another 16 months – a year later than was expected.

Tim Losty, a senior official in the office of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, indicated the start date should be November 2014 rather than this November.

The Belfast Telegraph put a series of questions to the First Minister and Deputy First Ministers' Office (OFMDFM) last week. There has been no reply.

But speaking recently at the Stormont committee which monitors OFMDFM, Mr Losty said: "The reason for some slippage is that we have secured some key international organisations to assist with the design."

Committee chairman UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the timetable showed OFMDFM was to have its delivery partners in place by this month, with construction starting in November.

Mr Losty said: "I believe that that is an error. I believe that it should be November 2014."

Mr Attwood, who was replaced as Environment Minister a fortnight ago by party colleague Mark H Durkan, said consent was granted in April for the minor works.

BACKGROUND

Opposition to the peace centre project at the Maze among unionists is growing. Ulster Unionists, as well as the TUV, a number of victims' groups and organisations representing former security force personnel, are opposed. The Ulster Special Constabulary Association, said the watchtowers, H-block and hospital wing should be demolished, and suggested the Titanic Quarter could be considered for a conflict transformation centre. The DUP insists it has a veto over the project.

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