Belfast Telegraph

Casement Park rebuild in west Belfast 'would be unacceptable anywhere else in Northern Ireland' - court hears

By Alan Erwin

Approving a planned new 38,000-seater GAA stadium in the heart of west Belfast is an injustice which would be unacceptable anywhere else in Northern Ireland, the High Court heard today.

Lawyers for a residents group claimed surrounding homes will be dwarfed the sheer scale of the rebuilding scheme at Casement Park.

As their legal challenge to the £76 million project got underway, a judge was told police concerns about the impact on traffic were not put to the Stormont Minister who granted planning permission.

The new stadium, to be built on the existing site, is to include fully modern facilities and corporate resources.

Most of the funding is coming from the Northern Ireland Executive through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

But the Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents Association (MORA) claim a 38,000-seat ground will be too big for the neighbourhood.

They argue that a stadium of that magnitude will block out light, reduce the quality of life for those living close by and compound traffic congestion.

It is further alleged that planning chiefs failed to properly assess the new Casement Park as a mixed-use facility also capable of holding concerts and other public events.

David Scoffield QC, for MORA, stressed that his clients were not opposed to any redevelopment.

Many of them were described as grassroots GAA supporters who would have no problem with a more modest 20,000 to 25,000-seater stadium scheme.

But the barrister argued: "The residents feel this planning permission is simply an injustice and they are being expected to put up with an impact on their lives and their properties which would not be accepted anywhere else in Northern Ireland."

Despite their objections to the proposals, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan first gave the green light for rebuilding the stadium last December.

In court today Mr Justice Horner was shown current photos of the ground and impressions of how it will look if the plans go ahead.

The proposed new ground would dominate the surrounding landscape and skyline, he was told.

The judge confirmed, however, that he will visit and inspect the site for himself after hearing all arguments.

Setting out the main grounds of challenge, Mr Scoffield claimed there were failures to apply keep planning policy and fully examine the impact on traffic.

"What happened in this case falls very far short of what the Department's own guidance says should happen for developments of this type," he argued.

The barrister said police expressed "huge concerns" about potential traffic issues.

"The Minister was told nothing whatsoever about the PSNI position when he was provided with the materials to allow him to make his decision," he told the court.

Mr Scoffield claimed there had been a "rush" to grant planning permission within six months of the application being submitted.

"That is the task the Planning Service set itself and that is the goal which the Minister delivered," he said.

"That was done, we submit, at the expense of detailed consideration of a number of issues."

The case, which is listed for a four-day hearing, continues.

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