Belfast Telegraph

Balmoral Show ends with pledge to be even bigger come 2016

By Rebecca Black

It was the biggest Balmoral Show in history - but organisers are determined to make next year even better.

Colin McDonald, chief of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, said it was delighted with this year's show, which is estimated to have been attended by more than 100,000 people over the three days.

He said the biggest driver to attendance was the weather, and that the sunshine this week helped bring the crowds out.

This year's show was the third on the new Maze site, and was 10% bigger than 2014 with more exhibitors, more classes in most of the livestock competitions and the new sustainable village.

Next year's show will be bigger again and unrecognisable with the new 6,000sq metre Eikon centre dominating the site.

Work has already begun on the new centre with the foundations finished just last week. The work was halted to allow the show to take place but is set to resume next Wednesday. The Eikon will be the biggest exhibition space in Northern Ireland when it is completed in September.

Mr McDonald revealed the RUAS had already received bookings for the new venue, and that it will host the organisation's Winter Fair later this year.

There are also plans to make the Eikon carbon-neutral, powering it from renewable sources including windmills, biomass and solar panels. These are part of a longer-term plan.

Mr McDonald emphasised it was not "greenwash", meaning only green on the surface, but passionate about bringing green energy on to the site. But the work is all dependent on the flow of finance from the redevelopment of the show's old site in Balmoral in south Belfast.

The RUAS is retaining the front section of the site while the rest is being redeveloped, around half for housing and half for commerce, with the possibility of a major hotel group coming on board. Planning permission has been obtained with signs expected to appear at the site next week.

"We have just signed off on the final agreement with Hillmark Blue Horizon, the developer building the proposed 140 homes at the Harberton Park end of the site," he said. "The housing development will take in 16 acres of the King's Hall complex.

"I can also confirm that the King's Hall and the remaining 16 acres are being actively marketed at the present time."

When asked about whether a new link road will be built to make the site more accessible, he said that was a matter for the site as a whole, and insisted that the show was able to handle its traffic without a problem.

Earlier in the week First Minister Peter Robinson (above) had blamed Sinn Fein for blocking the building of a new road to link the Maze site with the nearby motorway.

But Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness hit back, claiming Sinn Fein had kept its side of the bargain by backing the moving of the Balmoral Show to the Maze site, but that the DUP had let it down by not backing the creation of a peace-building centre at the Maze.

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