Belfast Telegraph

Casement Park: How a team of residents scored points over the GAA

David Young traces the twists and turns of a tussle between Casement Park’s neighbours and the biggest sports organisation on the island

When the GAA set out its grand vision for the future of Casement Park stadium back in 2012, it must have expected that its proposals would be greeted with open arms in the GAA stronghold of west Belfast.

It was exactly a year ago that the sporting organisation warmly welcomed planning approval from SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, and funding from Sinn Fein Sports Mnister Caral Ni Chuilin.

But celebrations were premature.

The redevelopment plan galvanised some local residents into action. Now, following a long legal battle, the little platoon has driven the GAA's tanks off their lawns.

The quashing of planning permission for the gigantic 38,000-seat redevelopment in west Belfast represents a stunning victory for people power.

In the High Court yesterday, Mr Justice Horner confirmed he was overturning Mr Durkan's decision to approve the £77m Casement Park redevelopment - despite being urged to consider other options.

Carmel McCavana of the Owenvarragh and Mooreland Residents Association said: "We're delighted with the judge's verdict: but we are sorry it had to come to this. All this could have been avoided if only the GAA had been prepared to listen to us."

The Casement Park plan began with great fanfare.

In March 2011, then Sports Minister Nelson McCausland trumpeted a £138m boost for sport in Northern Ireland, with the lion's share going to the GAA proposal. The GAA had formally accepted the NI Executive's funding offer in February.

As the massive scale of the development became clear, local residents in Owenvarragh Park and Mooreland Park, which both abut the existing stadium, realised the profound impact it would have on their lives. They felt they had to act, setting up their residents' association in January 2012. When the full planning application for the new stadium was submitted to the authorities in 2013, the residents took the legal route, submitting a request for a judicial review of Mr Durkan's decision to approve the plan.

Community support was vital during the long struggle against the Casement Park plans, according to Ms McCavana.

Without that support, they could never have raised the substantial funds to finance the judicial review - which yesterday ended in defeat for the GAA and the planning authorities.

They felt that the big guns of the GAA were simply ignoring their views.

Ms McCavana said: "The points Mr Justice Horner made today were all points we had already made to the GAA.

"We talked to the GAA, but they were not listening to us," she said

"They must have thought they could just steamroller their way through.

"We only wanted to protect our homes and the quality of life in our area."

She added: "It's unbelievable what we had to take on in order to have our voice heard."

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