Belfast Telegraph

Casement Park bill hits £6.7m before planning consent has been granted

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

A total of £6.7 million will have been spent on the stalled re-development of Casement Park by the end of the financial year, a Stormont committee has heard.

Even though the 38,000 seater stadium in the heart of west Belfast has yet to receive planning permission, expensive design and construction contracts still have to be paid, it was revealed.

Approval for the GAA facility - a proposed venue for Ireland's 2023 rugby World Cup bid - was overturned last December after residents won a legal challenge to block the plans.

However, Rory Miskelly, a senior official with the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL) said the project remained a "key priority".

He said: "Fundamentally there is a strong resolve both within the GAA and the department to carry on the work, to build on the good work and submit a new planning application in '15 in order to deliver this Executive-endorsed investment in the format of a regional stadia at Casement Park."

More than £67 million of public money has been set aside for the Casement Park expansion as part of a Government commitment to upgrade outdated facilities for Northern Ireland's three main sports - rugby, football and Gaelic.

The funding cannot be reallocated for other capital projects.

In an update to MLAs on the Culture Arts and Leisure committee, it emerged £5.1 million had been spent on Casement Park by last March and, predictions for the current financial year indicated a further £1.6 million had gone towards the controversial project.

Mr Miskelly, a DCAL programme director, said he was "hopeful" a revised application could be lodged with planners by August and that construction work could begin on the site by early next year.

"Fundamentally the core aspect of the judgment related to the capacity to have the infrastructure accommodate 38,000 spectators," he added.

"The ruling did not find material fault with the scale or mass of the stadium as designed. The focus therefore is on the assessment of the 38,000 capacity, the existing infrastructure and in respect of transport to and from there."

MLAs were told that existing live contracts with design and construction teams meant the project would not have to start from scratch.

Mr Miskelly said: "We have done the majority of the detailed design and development. We are not re-setting the clock to the same proportionate spend."

Meanwhile, the committee also heard that legal costs associated with the judicial review would fall to the Department of Environment and the GAA.

The Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents' Association brought legal proceedings against Environment Minister Mark H Durkan's decision to approve the £77 million redevelopment.

The contested that their homes would be dwarfed by the new stadium.

In his ruling delivered on December 18, Justice Mark Horner said the minister's decision had been unlawful.

The High Court judge identified failures in the environmental impact assessment of the larger stadium and said there had been a reliance by the DoE on an inaccurate figure of 32,600 capacity as a baseline for the project.

The effect of huge crowds on the road network to the stadium was also not properly considered, according to the judge.

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